Equity Attainment Gaps Growing in Most States

By Beatrice Ohene-Okae

Policymakers, businesses, institutions, and students share the goal of increasing the college attainment rate for our nation’s students broadly. College enrollment has increased over the last few years, but troublingly gaps in education attainment between white and other groups of students have actually been increasing. These gaps in attainment rate provide insight into the shortcomings of our higher education system, and challenge our ability to level the playing field and increase success overall. Young Invincibles recently published a comprehensive report on national equity gaps with federal policy strategies to address these problems. With our country’s population continuing to diversify, it is important that young people across our generation have equitable opportunities to access and complete higher education, increasing our ability to contribute to our local and state economies and create economically secure futures.

Both the federal government and states influence students’ ability to pursue affordable, quality education. To better understand how each state fits into the broader problem nationally, we analyzed attainment rates by race and ethnicity in every state and how they compare across different ethnic and racial groups. We identified gaps in the current rates (as of 2015) as well as compared the ten-year change from 2005. The results are troubling:

  • Over the last 10 years, 38 states (out of the 45 with data available) have seen the gap between African-American and white individuals widen.
  • Similarly, 39 states and the District of Columbia have widened their education attainment gaps between Latinx and white individuals.
  • On average, the gap between African-Americans and white Americans has grown 1.3 points in the last decade, while the gap between Latinx and white Americans has grown 1.9 percent.

The map linked below shows the current gaps and ten year changes for both demographics in every state (please click the image below to use the interactive map):


From the map, we identified the five states with the highest attainment gaps in 2015 between white students and Latinx and African-American respectively, as well as the states whose gaps have grown the most in the last decade:


Few states have closed their education attainment gaps in the last decade.  New Mexico, Delaware, Oregon, Georgia, Connecticut, Nebraska, Virginia, Mississippi are among the 11 states that have closed education attainment gaps between African-American individuals and white individuals over the last 10 years. Maine, D.C, Hawaii, Wyoming, Puerto Rico, and Alaska are some of the 10 states that have closed education attainment gaps between Latinx individuals and white individuals.

What’s Driving Attainment Gaps (and helping close them)
There are numerous factors driving racial and ethnic disparities in our higher education system, so it remains difficult to point to singular strategies or programs states or institutions are using that widen or close these gaps.

African American and Latinx students experience unique legacies of discrimination and oppression. These legacies stem from explicit and implicit bias on an individual basis, as well as structural disparities in K-12 funding. Addressing these historic and current disparities requires explicitly acknowledging the unique challenges faced by underrepresented African-American, Latinx, and other students. That is why it’s encouraging to see influential organizations like the Lumina Foundation (and many others) include a “strong equity imperative” in their strategic plan and emphasize that “[e]quity must be at the center of our work to increase postsecondary attainment and reach Goal 2025.” Below we take a look a closer look at what some states and institutions are doing to acknowledge the problem and develop policies and interventions to improve equity in their systems:

Georgia has bucked national trends and closed the African-American attainment gap by 1 percent over the last 10 years, decreasing the original gap of 11 percent in 2005 to 10 percent in 2015. This is particularly significant as Georgia hosts one of the largest African American populations in the country. One potential driver of this trend is Georgia State University, recently recognized for conferring the most bachelor’s degrees to African-American students in the country. Georgia State has been using a predictive analytics system to improve the success of their students. The program has “tracked more than 140,000 student records and 2.5 million grades in order to identify behaviors that put a student at risk” of not completing and alert academic advisors to keep students on track to graduate. The outcomes at Georgia State have increased graduation rates by 6 percentage points since 2013, and helped students receive their degrees almost half a semester sooner than before, which has saved an estimated $12 million in tuition. The program at Georgia State has been so successful that, through the University Innovation Alliance, other universities such as Kansas University, Michigan State University, and Ohio State University have adopted these strategies as well to help improve the success of their students.

In Arizona, the attainment gap between Latinx individuals and white individuals has decreased by 1 percent over the last 10 years. Local dual-enrollment programs such as the Achieving a College Education (ACE) Program at Maricopa County Community College District (one of the largest community colleges in the country, serving 200,000 students)  could be working to close gaps. The program allows high school juniors and seniors to earn up 24 college credits. Additionally, Access ASU helps increase access to higher education for all Arizona students, and has several programs that support the academic needs of undocumented students or that help increase the number of first-generation Arizona students who are qualified and prepared to enroll at Arizona State University.

South Carolina
Likewise, South Carolina has decreased its attainment gaps between Latinx students and white students by 2 points in the last decade. At the same time, the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education has increased access to specific higher education resources for African-American, Latinx, and Native American students through comprehensive financial aid programs and scholarships. These programs and scholarship opportunities make college accessible and affordable for students of color, and could be contributing to the the closing attainment gaps for the state.

While federal policy helps provide underrepresented students with resources such as financial aid and support for minority-serving institutions, state and institutional policies play a large role in helping to close equity gaps. As our country continues to diversify, it’s clear that disadvantaged students are not receiving the educational resources that they need to succeed. Moving forward, we encourage states and individual institutions to take a good look at their education attainment gaps and develop policies to address them.

The analysis looked at population and education attainment figures provided by the U.S Census Bureau and American Community Survey (1-Year Estimates). From this information, the education attainment rate was calculated for each state. We analyzed current rates in education attainment (as of 2015) for 2 year and 4 year degrees as well as ten year (2005 to 2015) to estimate differences in the education attainment by comparing the attainment rates of Latinx students to white/non-Latinx students as well as comparing the attainment rates of African-American/black students to white/Latinx students. Overall, gaps in postsecondary education attainment have been increasing in the United States over the last 10 years between white students and other groups. The national average attainment gap between African-American and white students was 14 percent for 2015, and 19 percent between Latinx and white students.

From the initial analysis, states such as Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont did not have a large enough African-American population as compared to the margin of error for general population calculations, and therefore lacked sufficient data on the education attainment rate for this population group. These states were omitted from calculations for the education attainment gaps between African-Americans and whites in 2015 as well as from the 10 year education attainment gaps between African-Americans and whites. They are represented in grey for both layers of the map.

“Importing degrees” impacts this analysis. The attainment rate measures the degree holders currently living in each state but not necessarily the amount of degrees that each state produces.

Beatrice Ohene-Okae is currently the GIS Fellow for Young Invincibles – a policy driven organization in Washington, DC focused on addressing millennial issues surrounding healthcare, education, and employment. She is currently a senior at the University of Mary Washington and will be receiving a B.A. in Geography, minor in Environmental Sustainability, and certificate in GIS this May.

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Making the Most of Millennial Talent

Navigating today’s post-recession job market is daunting for many new graduates. Employers expect entry level hires to come with work experience, which often means taking an unpaid internship (or two, or three) for those lucky enough to be able to afford it. For the rest of our generation, it can be a real struggle moving from graduation into the workforce. Young workers without a degree beyond high school face even tougher prospects. It comes as no surprise that jobs and education are the top policy priorities among young voters.

The Lumina Foundation is leading an effort called #TalentTuesday designed to get people talking about the need for more Americans with education beyond high school. Our generation understands this challenge on a very personal level. We know the path to economic security runs through the doors of higher education, but face many barriers along the way. Here’s our take on what policymakers and employers can do to alleviate these challenges and ensure our generation reaches its full potential.

For the vast majority of our generation, the conversation about getting a degree after high school starts with affordability. As college costs have skyrocketed, students are graduating with ever high levels of debt. Currently the national the total now stands at $1.3 trillion. Tackling this problem requires making college more affordable for current students and alleviating the debt burden for borrowers. Our report Higher Education Promise for the 21st Century lays out our ideas on both fronts. The federal government should focus on increasing investment in Pell grants and encourage states to reverse major budget cuts to higher education. Simplifying the application process as well as the number of income-based repayment plans would ease repayment for millions.

The conversation, however, must go beyond debt and affordability. As we note above, our higher education system needs stronger connection to the 21st century workforce to meet the needs of students and employers. One option is reforming Federal Work Study, which currently provides work experience to students while assisting them with college costs. Congress should change the formula to reach more low-income and community college students while encouraging schools to do more to ensure that work-study positions serve as stepping stones to careers.

Solutions must also go beyond two- and four-year degrees. The best evidence suggests that quality apprenticeships offer young people an opportunity to learn marketable skills and get paid to do it. They also have the added benefit of zero student debt. Promising policy proposals moving through Congress include the LEAP Act, which offers tax credit incentives to employers who host apprenticeships for Millennials, and the PACE Act, which increases grant funding to higher education institutions that offer apprenticeships.

Employers have a role to play as well. To attract Millennial workers, employers should keep a couple things in mind. First, benefits that help workers repaying student loans will appeal to millions of recent graduates soon to face their first monthly loan payment. Second, our generation is motivated by more than simply financial rewards. More than half of young workers report that having a job where they could make an impact was important to their happiness. Business need to show how Millennial workers can make a difference in the world.

More than one out of three American workers are now Millennials. Millions more will join this month as they graduate from universities across the country. We’re a diverse generation of creators, leaders, and entrepreneurs whose influence is growing in statehouses and business throughout the country. We look forward to being part of the #TalentTuesday dialogue, and to working with policymakers, higher education, and business leaders to ensure our generation is ready for the 21st century workforce.

Rory O’Sullivan is the Deputy Director at Young Invincibles where he directs the organization’s policy and advocacy strategy. He is an expert in a variety of issues related to young adults including federal financial aid, skills acquisition, youth employment, health insurance coverage, and consumer information.

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FACT SHEET: FAFSA Simplification

The unnecessarily complicated application for Federal Student Aid is preventing some students from accessing the financial aid they are entitled to or in some cases from going to college all together. Students tell us all the time that the application process can be quite difficult to complete and can put a strain on their families. It doesn’t have to be this way. Click here to read Young Invincibles’ fact sheet on FAFSA simplification.

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Student Loan Relief Act of 2015 Is a Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing


October 7, 2015

Contacts: Colin Seeberger, colin.seeberger@younginvincibles.org, 214.223.2913; Sarah Schultz, sarah.schultz@younginvincibles.org, 202.654.6501

Student Loan Relief Act of 2015 Is a Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

[WASHINGTON]–Last week, U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced S. 2099, the Student Loan Relief Act of 2015, which would establish a mechanism for refinancing Federal student loans with non-public lenders.

Jennifer Wang, policy director of Young Invincibles, released the following statement in reaction to the legislation’s introduction:

The Student Loan Relief Act of 2015 is a wolf in sheep’s clothing — offering borrowers the chance to refinance at the expense of their consumer protections. Yes, borrowers should be able to refinance their loans just like mortgage or auto loan holders, but they shouldn’t have to give up their federal protections, like the right to repay their loans as a proportion of their income, or ability to put their loans into deferment or forbearance during tough economic times, in order to refinance.”

“Borrowers are also not the only ones threatened by this legislation. By steering borrowers into the private loan market via federally guaranteed loans, this bill privatizes profits made on the backs of students and families while placing the risk squarely on the taxpayer. A smarter approach would be to allow federal borrowers to bring their interest rates down while simultaneously preserving consumer protections.


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Testimony: Second Chance Pilot Program is Commonsense

On September 22, 2015, Young Invincibles testified before the New York City Council’s Higher Education Committee hearing on President Obama’s Second Chance Pilot Program, which will allow incarcerated youth to qualify for important college access lifelines like the Pell Grant. Please find a complete readout of Young Invincibles’ testimony here.

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Gainful-Employment Rule Survives For-Profit Group’s Court Challenge

“The U.S. Education Department’s gainful-employment rule is one step closer to taking effect. A federal judge on Tuesday rejected a serious legal challenge, brought by the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, to the controversial rule. The lobbying group’s lawsuit was the highest hurdle remaining for the proposed rule, which will judge career-oriented programs on their graduates’ ability to repay their student loans. The rule is slated to take effect on July 1.” Read more at the Chronicle of Higher Education by clicking here.

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Hillary Clinton Set to Unveil New Plan to Tackle Youth Unemployment

“At a forum Wednesday in South Carolina, Hillary Clinton will introduce a proposal that would offer businesses a $1,500 tax credit for every worker hired to a government-rated earn-and-learn apprenticeship. The program, meant to target stubbornly high unemployment rates among young Americans, would require apprentices to be registered with state or federal regulators, and make qualifying apprenticeship programs subject to standards and outcome measures, according to a senior campaign aide.” Read more at Policy Mic by clicking here.

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2016 Millennial Memo (May 27, 2015): Keeping tabs on higher education debates

2016 Millennial Memo (May 27, 2015)
530 days to go…

WALKER RESPONDS ON UW SYSTEM CUTS: From an interview with local interview WXOW reporter Ginna Roe, “When asked about his proposed $300 million in cuts to the UW System, Walker defended the cuts. ’2.5 percent, any of us I think can make an adjustment certainly in our businesses in our own homes. That’s all we’re talking about. 2.5 percent of the entire University of Wisconsin System budget.’ Walker said it’s a small amount when you consider the entirety of the UW System. ‘Four years ago, the same detractors said that education wasn’t going to work because of our reform. Four years later, graduation rates are higher, reading scores are higher, ACT scores are second best in the country,’ he said.”
WISCONSIN LAWMAKERS REJECT WALKER PROPOSAL TO AXE FOR-PROFIT COLLEGE REGULATORY BOARD: According to the Wisconsin State Journal‘s Dan Simmons, “The [Wisconsin] Legislature’s budget committee has rejected Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to do away with a small state agency that approves and regulates for-profit colleges. It’s a sign the Educational Approval Board will continue unchanged after being targeted for elimination since February.”

CHRISTIE DISCUSSES RECORD ON HIGHER ED INVESTMENT: At an event last month in Newmarket, N.H., Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) talked about increases in New Jersey’s state tuition aid grants for the last 3 years and $1.2 billion in capital improvements to the state’s universities as ways to keep tuition down. When asked whether that has helped tuition stay flat, Christie said, “Well, no, but it’s started to tick back down because we just started to make those investments last year. So we passed the bonds issue last year. So now the last year and a half, they have been building the buildings and I think that’s going to really help because they’ve had to do that all on their own for the last 25 years. I’m the first Governor in 25 years to invest in capital improvements in our colleges and universities.” (Video here.)

NEW REPORT FINDS NJ HIGHER ED FUNDING IS WAY DOWN, DEBT WAY UP: NJ.com’s Adam Clark reports: “New Jersey’s ‘lackluster’ financial support of its colleges and universities has led to increased tuition, ballooning student debt and erosion in the quality of higher education, according to a new report. The state’s higher education funding has dropped by more 22 percent since 2008 when adjusted for inflation, a decrease of more than $2,150 per student, according to an analysis by New Jersey Policy Perspective, a Trenton-based public policy research group. Meanwhile, average four-year tuition costs in New Jersey grew by 23.7 percent between 2004 and 2013 while the average family income fell by 7.3 percent with inflation factored into both calculations. As a result, average student debt for New Jersey students rose by 40.5 percent when adjusted for inflation, the report said.”

DEM POLLSTER WEIGHS IN ON STUDENT DEBT: In an interview with the Washington Post’s Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, Democratic pollster Geoff Garin said “he thinks student debt is as important to millennials ‘war and peace issues’ were to baby boomers… it’s a crucial motivator to get younger people to vote… student debt is often the defining economic fact of their lives.”
HUCKABEE CONCERNED ABOUT IMPACT OF STUDENT DEBT ON HOUSING MARKET: In his first speech as an official candidate, Huckabee expressed concern about student debt’s affect on the housing market, “one-in-four American families is paying more than half their income for housing. Home ownership is at its lowest level in decades and young people with heavy student debt aren’t likely to afford their first home for a while.
TOP-ED OF THE WEEK: Low Cost College Isn’t Enough, by David Perry in last week’s CNN Opinion: “I hope that the cost of college becomes a major political issue. But let’s remember that low cost must be paired with high quality. High quality means providing good jobs for the people asked to prepare students for good jobs of their own. It means building educational structures with lots of face time, individualized education, and support systems for those new to learning. Otherwise, we can cut costs down to nothing, but we won’t help the people most in need. To fix higher ed, the focus on savings must be accompanied by a massive public reinvestment in teaching and advising.
CLINTON RECEIVED $225K FOR SPEECH FROM JEB BUSH-AFFILIATED ACADEMIC PARTNERSHIPS: Lee Fang reporting for the Intercept: “Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received nearly a quarter of a million dollars last year for a speaking engagement on behalf of Academic Partnerships, a for-profit education company in which Jeb Bush held an ownership stake and on whose board he served. Clinton’s newly filed personal financial disclosure shows that she was paid $225,500 on March 24, 2014 by Academic Partnerships. At the invitation-only event in Dallas, Texas, Clinton reportedly said, “today a student doesn’t need to travel to Cambridge, Mass., or Cambridge, England, to get a world-class education.” Academic Partnerships assists universities in converting their academic degree programs into online versions that can be taken by students around the world.”
CHRISTIE PROMISES ANSWER ON BOOSTING PELL GRANTS, IF HE RUNS FOR PRESIDENT: At the same event, when asked whether he would support boosting investment in the Pell grant, which helps low-income students be able to afford college, Christie said, “Well, we’ll see. You know, if I decide to run for president, I’ll definitely answer that one.” (Video here.)
WARREN UNLOADS ON NEED TO REDUCE FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN INTEREST RATES: In an appearance last month on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), when discussing the need to lower student loan interest rates, “Why can’t we just say, ‘look, that’s not what we should be doing as a country.’ We should not say to kids, if your mom and dad can write a check for college, you pay this much for college, but if they can’t, you have got to pay a much higher rate because you have to pay more on your student loans.”
RAND ON REFI: At a “Disrupting Democracy” event with Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), hosted in San Francisco earlier this month by Lincoln Labs and Brigade, SF Weekly reports that “when asked about his opposition to a bill that would allow people to refinance their student loans, [Senator Paul] mocked the idea that college should be free, saying, ‘That’s ridiculous. That’s absurd.’” (SF Weekly)
RUBIO CALLS FOR OVERHAUL OF HIGHER ED SYSTEM; SPECIFICS YET TO COME: According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution‘s Greg Bluesmen, earlier this month, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) “told Georgia Republican delegates that he would overhaul the higher education system… Rubio told the crowd he would encourage more students to go into vocational fields and offer more pathways for non-traditional students to get college degrees. ‘We need competition in higher education. We need choices in higher education so that people who are working full time and also raising a family can receive a certificate.’”
RUBIO-WYDEN’S STUDENT-RIGHT-TO-KNOW-BEFORE-YOU-GO ACT GETS BIPARTISAN HOUSE INTRO: According to Inside Higher Ed: “Newly introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives would enable the linking of student-level enrollment information with data on employment and wages. The bipartisan bill would provide post-graduate earnings averages at both the institutional and academic program levels… It would make public these and other performance data about higher education by overturning the ban on a federal ‘student unit record’ system and freeing up existing, but currently unavailable information… Dubbed the ‘Student Right to Know Before You Go Act,’ it mirrors a companion bill that a bipartisan group of Senators previously introduced, including Marco Rubio.”
CLINTON SOUNDS THE ALARM ON INDEBTEDNESS: On the campaign trail in Mason City, Iowa last week, Clinton said: “We have got to make sure that college is affordable, and that cannot happen at the rate we are going unless we change the way we fund college education for young people who wish to have that experience. Many of us in this room, like I did, borrowed money to be able to college, but then we were able to pay it back because it wasn’t such an overwhelming burden as it has become now. The average student in Iowa graduates with $30,000 in debt and that then makes it very difficult for them to start a business, buy a new home, or even get married as one young man told me not so long ago. So we have to deal with the indebtedness to try to move toward making college as debt free as possible. I’m 100 percent behind President Obama’s proposal for free community college. We’ve got to try to get that through, and then we’ve got to try to do everything we can to make college available and affordable to all of our young people.” (C-SPAN)
MEASURING UP MILLENNIALS: A new Fox News poll of 1,006 registered voters conducted May 9-12, 2015 found some surprisingly close match-ups for Millennial voters’ support. Among those polled under 35, here are how the Republican candidates stack up against Hillary.
Clinton 45, Bush 43
Clinton 46, Cruz 43
Clinton 46, Rubio 40
Clinton 47, Walker 40
Clinton 48, Carson 40
Clinton 48, Kasich 38
Clinton 52, Fiorina 32
Clinton 47, Huckabee 42
Have someone you think should receive this blast? Have a tip? Write me at colin.seeberger@younginvincibles.org.
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Young Invincibles’ Policy Director Jen Wang’s Testimony on Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act

Click here to read Young Invincibles’ Policy Director Jen Wang’s Testimony on Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, delivered on May 20, 2015.

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New White House Report Highlights Need to Lower College Costs

May 7, 2015
Contact: Colin Seeberger, colin.seeberger@younginvincibles.org, 214.223.2913
Young Invincibles Lauds New White House Report Highlighting Need to Lower College Costs
[WASHINGTON]–Earlier today, the White House released a new report called Making College More Affordable for Millions of Americans, which looks at steps the President and Congress have taken to make college more affordable and what work still remains. The report also includes a state-by-state breakdown on Pell grant availability and number of recipients. Jen Mishory, Executive Director of Young Invincibles, released the following statement on the report’s release:
“For many young people, a college education is the gateway to finding a job and achieving economic security. With the cost of college and student debt having risen dramatically for this generation, we are pleased to see the Administration calling for additional reforms like the America’s College Promise to decrease costs in our higher education system.”
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