Stark College Attainment Gaps by Race and Income
In today’s economy, a postsecondary credential is in greater demand than ever before. By 2020, 65 percent of U.S. jobs will require some form of postsecondary education, but only only 39 percent of U.S. working-age adults hold a postsecondary credential as of 2012. Postsecondary education is also increasingly the only route to upward mobility. The lowest income Americans who obtain a college degree are five times more likely than their peers to escape poverty.
Unfortunately, issues such as rising tuition costs and confusion about complex college admission and financial aid processes keep many qualified students from entering college. Many of those who do enroll face additional challenges finding the support and resources they need to graduate. As a consequence, the four-year degree completion rate for low-income students has barely budged in the last 50 years (from 6 percent in 1965 to 9 percent in 2013). This trend in higher education outcomes is calcifying economic opportunity and mobility.
The problem is large and growing. Each year, hundreds of thousands of academically prepared high school seniors miss the college transition, and many more "underenroll" in institutions where they are likely to drop out before graduation. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 52 percent of 2011 high school graduates from low-income families enrolled in college immediately after high school, a figure 30 percentage points lower than their high-income peers. Nearly two-thirds of low-income students attend community colleges and for-profit institutions, which often have low graduation rates.
Don't school counselors support students in the college application process? Sadly, there aren't enough of them, especially in low-income high schools. The average U.S. school counselor has a caseload of 471 students, often making it impossible for them to provide meaningful one-to-one help. In addition, surveys of school counselors routinely report that counselors do not receive adequate training about college admissions or financial aid. For students whose parents didn't attend college themselves, they have nowhere to turn to get sound advice and support.
All students, regardless of income, age, race, or ethnicity, deserve an equal opportunity for a college education. Underrepresented students often must navigate the college pathway without adequate financial resources, guidance, or a strong college-going culture in their high schools. NCAN works to overcome these barriers so students can gain the postsecondary credentials they need to embark on successful careers and build America’s future.