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Report shows Black students are behind in college readiness and success

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Black high school students across Indiana and in Marion County are slowly trending upward when it comes to college readiness and success in higher education, but there is still a long way to go to close the achievement gap, according to the 2019 Indiana College Equity Report recently released by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

The College Equity Report is meant to be a companion piece to the commission’s annual College Readiness and College Completion reports.

Below are some of the highlights from the report. Go to in.gov to download the full report.

Diploma Type

Teresa Lubbers, head of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, said she would like the state to get rid of the general diploma, which she said doesn’t do a good job of preparing students for college. In 2016, only 4% of Black students who got a general diploma had early success in college, which is measured in part by how many students stay for a second year.

The work of deciding what standards students meet for diploma type is up to the state board of education.

For Black high school graduates in 2017, 14% got a general diploma, and only 16% got an academic honors diploma. For comparison, 40% of white students and 58% of Asian students got an academic honors diploma.

“We’re not doing people a favor by having them take a less rigorous high school diploma,” Lubbers said, “thinking that they’re then going to be prepared because then the likelihood of going [to college] and succeeding is very small.”

Early college credit

Only 40% of Black high school graduates in 2017 had earned college credit. That was about 30 percentage points lower than white and Asian students.

Contrary to popular belief, Lubbers said, earning college credits in high school is not out of reach for students who don’t find themselves on the honor roll every semester. That’s because dual-credit courses, which are overseen by some public state colleges, let students get the credit by just passing the class. In an Advanced Placement course, which is overseen by the national College Board, students have to take a year-end test to get the credit.

Earning college credits in high school not only increases the likelihood that students will graduate from college on time — another category where Black students are behind — but it also means less debt for learners and their families.

As of the fall of 2016, 26% of Black college students graduated on time from four-year institutions, an increase of 9 percentage points since 2009.

College-going rates

The percentage of Black students going to college was down to 56%, a drop of 8 percentage points from 2012 to 2017. That was the largest demographic drop over that timeframe. Only Asian and Hispanic students saw an increase.

The numbers were slightly better in Marion County, where 58% of Black high school graduates went to college. That was 1 percentage point lower than all students.

For those Black students who do go to college, 26% had early success in 2016, up from 17% in 2011.

21st Century Scholars program

The good news to come out of the College Equity Report is that students in the 21st Century Scholars program — a state program that pays for tuition and mandatory fees for low-income students — are on track to close the achievement gap by 2025. The commission’s goal is to eliminate achievement gaps among the state’s various learner populations by then, but no other set of students is on pace to do that.

21st Century Scholar graduates in 2017 were more likely to go to college (86%) than even higher-income students (68%). Scholars were more likely to earn college credit in high school (76%) than any other demographic. They were also more likely (46%) to earn an academic honors diploma than low-income students who weren’t scholars (13%) and higher-income students (44%).

The commission did not immediately have demographic data for scholars. Students who qualify for free and reduced lunch are eligible for the program, and they must sign up in seventh or eighth grade. According to the equity report, 69% of Black high schoolers were low-income in 2017, the largest percentage among racial groups. 

The big picture

Black students are falling further behind in some categories when it comes to college readiness and success. In other categories, they’re making progress but still face a gap. For those students and families who find it difficult to maintain hope of a better future, Lubbers said institutions should share the responsibility of making it right.

“One thing for sure: We can’t give up,” she said. “If we give up and just say, ‘Why do we care about this,’ we’re just going to drive income disparity and social stratification even more.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.


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