New Report Highlights D.C.’s Quiet Crisis in College Access & Completion

Washington, D.C.

November 1, 2023


Contact: Cesar Toledo, 

Washington, D.C. (November 1, 2023) — Today, Education Reform Now D.C. released a report titled “D.C.’s Quiet Crisis in College Access & Completion” that outlines eight recommendations for policymakers to close the college completion gap for students of color.

The report finds that D.C. has the highest bachelor’s degree attainment in the country yet the widest racial disparities. Fueling this crisis is for every 100 D.C. public school students who start high school together; only eight will complete postsecondary within six years, locking students out of the 58% of jobs requiring a degree.

“D.C. ‘s alarming racial disparities in bachelor’s degree attainment is only getting worse and must be addressed by policymakers immediately,” said Jessica Giles, executive director of Education Reform Now D.C. “ This report identifies policy solutions to help make D.C.’s postsecondary education system fast, flexible, affordable, and first-rate. It’s urgent that we blur the lines between high school, college, and career so all students have pathways to high-wage careers.”

More than 80% of D.C. voters support expanding dual enrollment programs, improving financial aid, reforming the University of the District of Columbia, and requiring D.C. private universities to be transparent, according to a new poll conducted by Emerson College Polling between August 29-September 2, 2023. 

“High school is a crucial turning point, guiding students toward their future paths. Yet, disparities in support services, college and career guidance, and learning loss from the pandemic create substantial hurdles,” said Chelsea Coffin, director of the Education Policy Initiative at D.C. Policy Center. “Recognizing and tackling these issues is imperative to empower D.C.’s high school graduates and ensure they are well-prepared for postsecondary education and beyond.”

“The students most academically impacted by COVID shutdowns will soon enter high school, with incoming freshmen requiring substantial support,” said  Josh Boots, executive director at EmpowerK12. “ERN DC’s report on college access & completion illuminates the need to re-envision the next generation’s high school experience. By taking a collaborative, data-driven approach, we can ensure that every D.C. student excels in their college and career pursuits.”

“Education Reform Now D.C.’s analysis of college-going among District of Columbia residents makes clear that the city’s work to improve the life prospects of its neediest citizens needs to include more opportunities to get to and through college and other meaningful post-secondary programs. High school graduation isn’t enough,” said Thomas Toch, director of FutureEd at the McCourt School of Public Policy,

Georgetown University.

Key recommendations in the report include:

  1. Focus on academic excellence, starting with improving student attendance.
  2. Implement flexible graduation requirements.
  3. Adopt financial literacy standards.
  4. Expand state-level financial aid offerings.
  5. Scale dual enrollment and early college opportunities and make them more accessible.
  6. Strengthen the University of the District of Columbia (UDC).
  7. Collect and publicly share data on D.C. student outcomes.
  8. Help D.C. residents re-enroll into college and persist.

To download the full report, “D.C.’s Quiet Crisis in College Access & Completion,” please visit here.


About Education Reform Now D.C. 

Education Reform Now DC (ERN DC) is a local chapter of a national non-profit, non-partisan think tank and advocacy organization that promotes increased resources and innovative reforms in preK-16 public education, particularly for students of color and students from low-income families. ERN DC believes that all public school students must graduate from high school with essential skills and receive a high-quality, affordable postsecondary education and the work-based experience and credentials necessary to earn a livable wage.