Equity gaps in education growing before pandemic; state hopes to bring change | State

A new report from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education shows equity gaps in Hoosier education are growing, and may continue to grow during the coronavirus pandemic.

The commission’s 2020 College Equity Report, released Thursday, shows Indiana’s students are growing increasingly more diverse, yet minority students fall below state averages in going to and completing college.

“We can’t know how and where to target our efforts without first zeroing in on the preparation gaps for our young Hoosiers,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said in a news release. “That’s why this educational equity data is significant for Indiana, because it helps us identify the areas and systems we need to challenge to ensure new generations of Hoosiers are fully equipped for a prosperous future.”

Equity in education is defined by the commission in its third report on student equity as the idea that life’s circumstances or obstacles should not dictate opportunity to succeed.

The report uses data from the commission’s College Readiness and College Completion Reports and collected before the pandemic.

However, Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers acknowledged with the release of the new report the increased economic pressures facing low-income and minority families, among those facing higher barriers in educational equity.

“Education can be a great equalizer, but it can also be the divider,” Lubbers said. “The recent economic impacts of COVID-19 have further exposed the reality that economic outcomes are linked to educational attainment, and Hoosiers with fewer opportunities due to social stratification or a lack of access to affordable higher education options have fared far worse.”

Inequalities identified

The 2020 College Equity report breaks down gaps along racial, ethnic, gender and socioeconomic lines as it related to students’ preparation, success and completion of higher education — beginning with students’ access to and completion of dual credit programs and advanced diploma programs in high school.

This year’s report found black and low-income Hoosiers are the least likely groups to earn Indiana’s Academic Honors Diploma, significant given students’ diploma types are found to correlate with their success in college.

For example, only 10% of students receiving Indiana’s general diploma in high school experience early success in college, according to the 2020 report.

“Students who come from middle-class or wealthy backgrounds are more likely to earn an Academic Honors Diploma,” the report states. “This indicates that lack of financial resources at home or in school districts may play a role in the academic performance of Hoosiers.”

While the rate of Hoosier students going to college has declined across all races and ethnicity, the report finds gaps are growing among minority students.

Hispanic and Latino students show the lowest college going rate among all students at 51%. However, a 9 percentage point drop in the number of black students attending college in the last five years proves to be the most significant decline among any Hoosier race or ethnicity.

Socioeconomic status also plays a role in students’ progression to college. The report found white men of a local-income were the least likely to continue to college with just 29% pursuing that higher education.

Once in college, the report finds, black and Hispanic students are less likely to continue to their second year and eventually complete their higher education.

However, the rate of Hoosiers overall completing their education on time at two- and four-year institutions is increasing.

And, though the effects of the pandemic are yet to be seen, Indiana students have shown significant improvement in the level of remediation needed over the last five years.

In fact, black students have gained 25 percentage points in this area over the last five years.

The report also tracks broad data on students’ progression into careers after college completion, finding that women of color are least likely to enter high-paying STEM fields and that nearly 90% of those graduating from Indiana university education programs to become the state’s next teachers are white.

“We must encourage more minority students to consider teaching as a career,” Lubbers said. “Research shows students of color are more successful in their education journey when they have the opportunity to be in the classroom with a teacher of color. Indiana has scholarships and stipends for teaching students who are Black and Hispanic/Latino. Growing the awareness of these existing programs is one goal of the Commission to make real progress for educational equity.”

Addressing the gaps

Acknowledging Indiana’s achievement gaps, the Commission for Higher Education posits several actions to take in seeking to close the gaps and reach the commission’s goal to ensure at least 60% of Hoosiers receive quality education and training beyond high school by 2025.

As governor, Holcomb has tasked his Governor’s Workforce Cabinet with identifying specific policies that can be adjusted to create opportunity for people of color within Indiana’s workforce programs.

One such program, Indiana’s Next Level Jobs Workforce Ready Grant program, has seen high participation among black and male students, according to the 2020 College Equity Report, showing a possible example for replication in addressing Indiana’s inequities in education.

The state’s 21 Century Scholars program, funding undergraduate, in-state tuition for eligible low-income students, also serves as a model path forward. High school students enrolled in the four-year program prove far more likely than their peers to go to college and are the only students on track now to close Indiana’s achievement gaps by 2020, according to the equity report.

The 2020 report found that 86% of 21st Century Scholars go to college on average compared to 38% of low-income students and 68% of high-income students.

In addition to working within state programming, the commission is planning its first iteration of an annual report card to be released in 2021 tracking progress in outreach to black and Hispanic or Latino learners, efforts to increase diversity in teaching and promotion of Indiana’s investment in student financial aid, among other items.

“Higher education must play a role in resolving the issues of disparity in Indiana,” Lubbers wrote in the report. “It is a moral and economic imperative to ensure our education and workforce systems are not increasing income disparity and social stratification, but rather preparing all Hoosiers for better futures.”

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