New Report on New Jersey Higher Ed Highlights Stark Inequities in College Prep, Financing, Degree Completion & Economic Opportunity

Higher-Ed Quality & Affordability

January 10, 2019

New Report on New Jersey Higher Ed Highlights Stark Inequities
in College Prep, Financing, Degree Completion & Economic Opportunity

New Jersey Ranks 3rd Among All States in Need for College-Educated Workers, but
Exports 42% of High School Seniors & Funnels In-State Students of Color to Under Resourced Colleges

Washington, D.C. –
Education Reform Now – a progressive think tank and advocacy organization – today released a new report, “Locked out of the Future: How New Jersey’s Higher Education System Serves Students Inequitably and Why It Matters” (available here) that reveals four big shortcomings related to college affordability that threaten long-term economic decline for New Jersey’s racial minorities.

New Jersey ranks third among all states and the District of Columbia in its need for college-educated workers with a projected 42 percent of job openings requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher – a number 20 percent higher than the national average. But a large college degree gap between White students and their Black and Latino peers is effectively serving to lock out students of color from New Jersey’s economic future.

The new report dives into factors holding back postsecondary students of color in New Jersey, including some of the biggest racial gaps in college preparation at the high school level nationwide, the funneling of racial minorities into two-year county colleges that aren’t adequately serving them, inequitable distribution of state higher education funds, and overarching racial and economic gaps in degree completion.

“Public colleges and universities are supposed to be engines of socioeconomic mobility, but for students of color in New Jersey, these institutions too often are calcifying, if not worsening, inequality,” said Michael Dannenberg, Director of Strategic Initiatives for Policy at Education Reform Now and a co-author of the report. “Family anxiety about college affordability is real and needs to be addressed, but at the same time, policy should respond to the deep underlying access and success challenges seen in the data, particularly for students of color. We need to expand the way we think about college affordability.”

Spearheaded by State Senate President Steve Sweeney, a 2016 Commission of New Jersey higher education leaders issued 20 recommendations for state and public colleges to improve information on the cost of higher education, the means to finance those costs, and guiding students to and through graduation. In the coming weeks, Governor Murphy is slated to release his own plan. The Education Reform Now report focuses on the cost of inaction for the state and particularly for families of color.

“The recent stats concerning the achievement gaps affecting students of color at our beloved higher learning institutions are astounding and alarming,” said Pastor Ronald Slaughter of Saint James AME Church in Newark, New Jersey. “This report highlights the structural racism affecting the ways in which access to college and careers are distributed in New Jersey, with too many Black and Brown students lacking adequate preparation for college and, among those prepared, too many sent to two-year colleges that have poor graduation rates. We need bold change to make equal educational opportunity and college affordability a reality for all of New Jersey’s students.”

Key Findings:

  • New Jersey’s education system is not meeting business and workforce needs.
    • For projected new jobs, only two states have a greater demand for bachelor’s degrees or higher attainment. (Washington, D.C., & Massachusetts)
    • New Jersey’s white population earns bachelor’s degrees at a rate needed to keep up with job demand (43%), but Black and Latinx degree attainment rates (23% & 17%) lag far behind.
  • New Jersey students of color are effectively funneled into two-year county colleges that have extremely low completion rates.
    • A New Jersey Black student is nearly 30% less likely to enroll in an in-state public four-year college than his/her White peer. A Latinx student is 18% less likely.
    • Nearly half of New Jersey Black and Latinx college students attend public two-year institutions, where all things being equal, their likelihood of completion is 30 percentage points less than similar students with similar academic credentials attending four-year schools.
    • Over 85% of first-time, full-time Black and Latinx two-year New Jersey county college students leave school without a degree – often with student loan debt to boot.
  • There are gross inequities in state higher education aid funding decisions with little policy rationale.
    • Rowan University serves a statistically less needy student body than Montclair State (30.5% vs. 46.2% Pell Grant eligible), but is awarded three times more in state general operating aid per student than Montclair State ($7,146 v. $2,359 per pupil).
    • The average New Jersey Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) funding per student is $8,626 at private, non-profit colleges and only $1,762 at public county colleges. For students from the lowest family income households, only three states have a higher after financial aid total net cost of attendance than New Jersey.
    • Princeton University receives $1 million in TAG funding despite a $27 billion endowment and an institution guarantee to meet full economic need of low and middle-income students with university grant aid.
  • New Jersey has unacceptably large degree completion gaps among racial subgroups.
    • While completion rates at New Jersey four-year public colleges are higher than the national average for most groups, there are also larger than average completion gaps among racial subgroups. New Jersey has the 8th largest Latinx-White degree completion gap in the nation. New Jersey’s first-time, full-time Black community college students are less than half as likely as their White peers to finish a 2-year degree within 3 years of initial enrollment.
    • Even when compared to similar colleges serving similar students, New Jersey colleges underserve racial subgroups and underperform. Stockton University and SUNY New Paltz serve a similar percentage of Pell Grant students (35.1% v. 33.2%) and have a similar median SAT score (1074 v. 1124), yet whereas SUNY New Paltz graduates 69.2% of Black students, Stockton only graduates 35.7% within six years of initial enrollment.

For more details on individual institutions and graphics describing New Jersey’s post-secondary education challenge, see our full report here and PowerPoint presentation here.

# # #