No Commencement in the Commonwealth

College Affordability and Completion

June 27, 2018

ERN Report Reveals Bay State’s White-Latinx College Graduation Gap Ranks as 37th Worst in the Country

Research—Supported by Latinx Organizations in Massachusetts—Analyzes What’s Going Wrong for Latinx Students and Others & Makes Recommendations for How the Commonwealth Can Increase College Affordability and Close Graduation Gaps at the Same Time

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Education Reform Now – a progressive think tank and advocacy organization – today released a new report, No Commencement in the Commonwealth, (available here) that analyzes public higher education in the Bay State and reveals that the Latino graduation gap ranks 37th worst in the country.

Among other findings that show how students of color experience disparate rates of college access and success in Massachusetts, the key finding of a very wide gap between White and Latino students is particularly striking given that the graduation gap between White and Black students in the Bay State ranks as 3rd best in the country. It’s further surprising considering that Latino students in the Bay State have higher K-12 achievement levels than Black students in Massachusetts and higher K-12 achievement levels than Latino students nationally.

“Public colleges should be engines of socioeconomic opportunity – but because of high cost and bad policy design, too often they’re perpetuating inequality, if not worsening it, for staggering numbers of students,” said Michael Dannenberg, Director of Strategic Initiatives for Policy at Education Reform Now and former Senior Education Counsel to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA).  “When states disinvest from public higher education systems, tuition and fees rise and families get squeezed.  That’s why national leaders and officials in Massachusetts must do a better job of addressing inequities in education systems and economic opportunities from K-12 to college.”

“We need to make sure students—especially students of color and students from working families—have the critical support and resources to graduate without being crushed by debt,” said U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren.  “This report underscores a critical point: the federal government must support strong state investments in our public colleges and universities because smart investments pay off for our students and for our future.”

Education Reform Now’s research is supported by a number of organizations including Sociedad Latina, Collaborative Parent Leadership Action Network, East Boston Ecumenical Community Council, Hyde Square Task Force, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, Alianza Hispana and Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion, among others.

With median income for Latinos far behind others in the Commonwealth and other Latinos nationwide, the high price of public higher education in Massachusetts is hitting Latino families particularly hard,” said Alexandra Oliver-Davila, Executive Director of Sociedad Latina.  “The state is effectively channeling Latino students into under-resourced community colleges, which affects their ability to graduate and subsequently generate higher earnings.  Our leaders must take action to end this cycle of educational and economic inequity.”

Other key findings in “No Commencement in the Commonwealth”:

  • College preparation gaps between White students and students of color in Massachusetts measure among the largest in the nation.
    • White students are three times more likely to score “proficient” or “advanced” on the NAEP reading test and nearly four times more likely to score as proficient or advanced on the mathematics test than their Black peers.
    • White students are more than 50 percent more likely to complete a MassCore college preparatory curriculum in high school than their Black and Latino peers.
    • Of some 400 high schools in the Commonwealth, 31 have no students on the MassCore college preparatory track and another 32 have fewer than a quarter enrolled.
    • Black students are over two and a half times more likely than White students, and Latino students are twice as likely as their White peers to attend a school where fewer than 25 percent of the students graduate with a MassCore diploma.
    • Latino students are less than half as likely to take an AP test as Latino students elsewhere in the nation.
  • Students of color in Massachusetts are much more likely to attend public colleges than their White peers, especially two-year community colleges.
    • Black students are nearly 50 percent more likely to attend a two-year institution as their White peers.
    • Latino students are nearly twice as likely to do the same.
    • Latino students are 20 percent more likely than the national average to go to two-year institutions, despite better academic preparation coming out of high school compared to Black students and other Latino students nationwide.
  • Massachusetts has inordinately expensive public colleges with the average net price for total college costs (e.g. tuition, fees, books, room and board, supplies) more than 25 percent higherthan the national average at the four-year public institution level. It is 12 percent higher than the national average at the two-year level.
    • Latino families are hit particularly hard by this since they have much lower median family incomes than the overall Massachusetts median, and surprisingly, lower family incomes than the median for Latino families nationally.
  • Massachusetts community colleges are under performing.
    • A Massachusetts community college student is significantly less likely to complete an associate’s degree program within three years from the date of initial enrollment than the national average.
    • Black community college student graduation rates are more than 30 percent lower than the national average.
    • Latino community college graduation rates are more than 40 percent lower than the national average.
  • Massachusetts colleges with similar median SAT scores, similar incoming student high school GPAs, and similar student demographics often generate wildly different levels of student success as measured in degree completion and loan repayment rates.
    • The University of Massachusetts at Amherst is among the highest performing institutions in its peer group nationally, while UMass Dartmouth and Boston rank among the lowest in their peer groups nationally.

The report provides five policy recommendations for how leaders in the Commonwealth can help close the significant graduation gap for Latinos and others in the state:

  1. Create a new, student responsibility-linked, statewide ‘free college’ promise that covers the total cost of attendance to any two or four-year public college for talented, hard-working students (i.e. who have completed a MassCore track or equivalent, among other requirements) if they are from households making less than $75,000 a year.
  2. Make MassCore available at all schools and the default academic track for all students.
  3. Provide competitive aid to school districts and non-profit organizations for high school student academic support services.
  4. Provide competitive aid to non-profit organizations and school districts to fund counseling on college selection, application and financing.
  5. Provide targeted direct aid to colleges and universities for institution-based efforts to boost completion.

Read the report here.