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‘This is not sustainable’: Report shows racial gaps in the education-to-workforce pipeline

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From high school graduation waivers to college enrollment and completion, a new report from Business Equity for Indy shows how education disparities for Black students across the state turn into fewer economic opportunities and slower economic growth.

The report, released Nov. 9 by the Learning + Talent Opportunities Taskforce, shows where disparities are and how students in Marion County fare compared to the rest of Indiana. The taskforce also has recommendations that apply to employers and the education system.

The data, which took about five months to collect, is available in interactive charts online. Consistently, from one slide to the next, it’s clear Black students — who will become Black adults and workers — are at a disadvantage.

“This is not sustainable,” said Marshawn Wolley with Indianapolis Urban League, one of the organizations involved in Business Equity for Indy.

What the data shows

About 78% of Black students in Marion County graduated from high school in the 2018-19 class. That’s a better rate than white students (73%), but Black students are also more likely than any other racial demographic to graduate with a waiver.

Nearly 1 in 4 Black graduates used a waiver in the 2018-19 class, the highest rate in at least a decade. Black students also are less likely to graduate with an honors diploma.

The disparities in high school graduation make more sense when considering standardized test scores. On ILEARN, which is for grades 3-8, only 7% of Black students in the most recent cohort were proficient in both English language arts and math, compared to 34% of white students.

About half of Black high school graduates in Marion County go on to enroll in a postsecondary institution, 11 percentage points lower than white students. On-time completion at four-year institutions for Black students has steadily increased to 35%, but that’s still behind white students (45%).

Indiana’s public postsecondary institutions awarded 10,000 degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to white students in the most recent cohort. For Black students, that number is less than 700.

Taken together, taskforce members say these and other gaps lead to employers not having a large enough pool of Black applicants to fill in-demand, high-wage jobs.

Black people with a high school degree earned about $21,000 five years after graduating, less than half of the income for Black people who have a bachelor’s degree. Still, Black people in both scenarios are at the bottom among racial groups.


The taskforce has two goals. One is to develop recommendations for Central Indiana Corporate Partnership and Indy Chamber members to address education inequities in Indianapolis. Another is to develop recommendations for the BEI Policy Taskforce that should be addressed by the state or city.

“Racial disparities in education, training and early career outcomes are a community-wide concern with their roots in the history of race in America,” the report reads, “are not the fault of any one institution, and must be addressed by all sectors and partners working together.”

For employers, one of the taskforce’s recommendations is to locate some of their business operations in lower-income neighborhoods and hire local people.

It also recommends employers provide work-based learning opportunities to students starting in middle school to help increase exposure to different career options.

Policy recommendations include expanding access to early learning opportunities, better preparing students starting in middle school for college and careers, and redesigning the state’s 21st Century Scholars program to give students multiple chances to enroll and get a tuition-free education.

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

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