Poor, Minority Students Lose Ground In College, Study Says

December 04, 2009|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker , childs.walker@baltsun.com

A new report on university systems from 24 states, including Maryland, shows that low-income and minority students are not as well represented among those entering and graduating from four-year colleges as they are among high school graduates.

The report, released Thursday by The Education Trust and the National Association of System Heads, shows that low-income students represented 27 percent of high school graduates in Maryland and only 20 percent of university freshmen. Minority students made up 38 percent of high school graduates and 37 percent of freshmen enrolling in four-year universities.

Of freshmen entering the Maryland system in 1999, the six-year graduation rate for low-income, or Pell Grant-eligible, students was 51 percent compared with 64 percent for students not eligible for Pell Grants. And about 46 percent of minority students graduated within six years compared with 67 percent among non-minorities.

By comparison, in the 24 surveyed states, low-income students represented 41 percent of high school graduates but only 30 percent of freshmen in the university systems and 26 percent of graduates from four-year institutions. The divides are similar for Hispanic, black and American Indian students.

The systems participating in the report have vowed to cut the gaps in half by 2015 and plan to issue progress updates along the way.

This achievement gap in higher education will leave the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage with other nations and also represents a serious civil rights issue, said William E. Kirwan, chancellor of Maryland's university system.

"A college degree has become a passport to a meaningful job and a high quality of life," Kirwan said. "If this initiative fails, we will basically be relegating large fractions of our population to long-term poverty, which is not what our nation stands for."

Kirwan said Maryland is attacking the problem by redesigning the courses that stall many students and offering college-readiness counseling to low-income middle schools. He added that progress on closing the gap will be a part of every university president's annual evaluation.

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