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Access, Completion Outcomes Lag for Underrepresented Students

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Several public flagship institutions in the Great Lakes region are falling short in their objective of being a beacon for social and economic mobility for low-income and minority students, according to a recently published report by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP).

Dr. Michelle Asha Cooper

IHEP’s report offers “equity snapshots” of The Ohio State University, Indiana University – Bloomington, the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC), the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities and the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

Analyses reveal that “deep racial and economic inequities in access and completion” persist at the six flagships in the Great Lakes region despite progress over the years. Moreover, underrepresented minority (URM) students’ and low-income students’ graduation rates are lower than their White and higher-income students, the report found.

“While the schools are enrolling more underrepresented minority students today than in the past, these enrollment increases have not kept pace with the changing state demographics,” said IHEP president Dr. Michelle Asha Cooper. “In effect, students of color are more underrepresented today than they were 15 years ago.”

Each flagship’s equity snapshot breaks findings down into racial and socioeconomic categories around who has access to the flagship, who succeeds on campus and what policies are in place that may promote or hinder access and academic success for underrepresented groups. Researchers analyzed data from IPEDS and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

OSU-Main Campus:

IHEP’s report found a 10 percentage point access gap between the number of racial minorities that enrolled as first year students compared to the number that graduated from high school in the state. URMs graduate at a rate of 76 percent while White students’ graduation rate is 84 percent.

OSU-Main Campus had a 21 percentage point access gap between the number of low-income students that enrolled as first-year students compared to the number of low-income students enrolled at all institutions in the state. These students’ graduation rates differed from higher-income peers by 8 percentage points.

IU–Bloomington:

There is a 9 percentage point access gap between the number of racial minorities that enrolled as first year students compared to the number that graduated from high school in the state. URMs graduate at a rate of 64 percent while White students’ graduation rate is 78 percent.

IU-Bloomington also had an 18 percentage point access gap between the number of low-income students that enrolled as first-year students compared to the number of low-income students enrolled at all institutions in the state. These students’ graduation rates differed from higher-income peers by 13 percentage points.

UIUC:

IHEP found an 18 percentage point access gap between the number of racial minorities that enrolled as first year students compared to the number that graduated from high school in the state. URMs graduate at a rate of 81 percent while White students’ graduation rate is 88 percent.

Further, UIUC had a 20 percentage point access gap between the number of low-income students that enrolled as first-year students compared to the number of low-income students enrolled at all institutions in the state. These students’ graduation rates differed from higher-income peers by 4 percentage points.

U-M Ann Arbor:

The report found a 10 percentage point access gap between the number of racial minorities that enrolled as first year students compared to the number that graduated from high school in the state. URM’s graduate at a rate of 84 percent while White students’ graduation rate is 92 percent.

U-M Ann Arbor had a 23 percentage point access gap between the number of low-income students that enrolled as first-year students compared to the number of low-income students enrolled at all institutions in the state. These students’ graduation rates differed from higher-income peers by 7 percentage points.

U of M Twin Cities:

There is a 7 percentage point access gap between the number of racial minorities that enrolled as first year students compared to the number that graduated from high school in the state. URM’s graduate at a rate of 64 percent while White students’ graduation rate is 80 percent.

U of M Twin Cities also had a 16 percentage point access gap between the number of low-income students that enrolled as first-year students compared to the number of low-income students enrolled at all institutions in the state. These students’ graduation rates differed from higher-income peers by 11 percentage points.

UW Madison:

IHEP found a 9 percentage point access gap between the number of racial minorities that enrolled as first year students compared to the number that graduated from high school in the state. URM’s graduate at a rate of 76 percent while White students’ graduation rate is 86 percent.

UW Madison had an 18 percentage point access gap between the number of low-income students that enrolled as first-year students compared to the number of low-income students enrolled at all institutions in the state. These students’ graduation rates differed from higher-income peers by 8 percentage points.

Cooper said that IHEP engaged in “robust conversations” on the report’s findings with administrators from five of the six schools, which then helped inform the “Equity-Minded Policies” section of the report.

Equity-minded policies that flagships and other institutions can implement include:

-Offering financial aid based on need;

-Reconsidering early-decision applications that may prevent students from comparing aid packages;

-Reconsidering “demonstrated interest” through campus visits – a “luxury” that a low-income student may not have, the report said;

-Reexamining legacy preference that primarily disadvantages minority and low-income students; and

-“Banning the Box” that requires applicants to disclose any interactions with the criminal justice system.

“While the equity-minded policies we highlight are illustrative, they are not exhaustive,” Cooper cautioned. “Closing equity gaps is about more than checking a handful of policy boxes … Meaningfully disrupting these inequities will require strong leadership alongside a solid investment of resources and an institution-wide commitment to promoting equitable access and completion.”

“Public flagships have a responsibility to enhance equity rather than perpetuate privilege,” the report summary said.

Overall, Cooper added that closing equity gaps at flagship universities should be an “urgent priority” for all institutional leaders and policymakers.

“We hope that this analysis inspires institutional leaders to take on the challenge of closing racial and socioeconomic equity gaps and to critically evaluate all institutional policies and practices, including financial aid and admissions policies, through an equity lens,” she said.

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at tpennamon@diverseeducation.com. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.

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