News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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March 15, 2013

Higher Ed Commission calls for closing college ‘achievement gap’

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Commission on Higher Education wants the state’s colleges and universities to be more aggressive in closing the graduation “achievement gap” for Hispanic and black students, who are dropping out of college at a significantly higher rate than white students.

The commission passed a resolution Tuesday that calls on the state’s higher education institutions to publicly set targets for closing the completion rate gap for black and Hispanic students.

And to push those institutions along, the commission pledged to start publishing  the college completion rates of minority students for each of the state’s colleges and universities in an annual report.   

Prompting the action is data collected by the commission that found that only 16 percent of black students and 35 percent of Hispanic students enrolled in the state’s public colleges and universities were graduating within four years, compared with the 40 percent rate for white students.

The six-year completion rate for white students is 59 percent, compared with 53 percent for Hispanic students and 34 percent for black students.

“Indiana has a moral and economic imperative to dramatically increase the success rates of all Indiana college students,” said Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers. “Far too many students start college and never finish, and we cannot afford to leave another generation of Hoosiers behind.”

The commission has already set an ambitious goal for raising the numbers of  Hoosiers with post-secondary degrees: 60 percent of the population by 2025.

Currently, only a third of Hoosiers have completed education beyond high school, ranking Indiana 40th nationally in educational attainment.

The commission now wants to close the achievement gap by 2025 as well, which means colleges and universities would be graduating their minority students at the same pace and rate as their white students.

Lubbers said the goal is ambitious, but worthy.

“What’s the alternative?” she said. “To not close the gap? We don’t think so.”

Under Lubbers, the commission has stepped up pressure on the state’s colleges and universities to increase their graduation rates. Lubbers led the commission’s  push for performance-based funding for the state’s colleges and universities, tying more of the state dollars allocated by the Indiana General Assembly to graduation rates and other metrics.

Getting minority students to graduation is a challenge for colleges and universities across the U.S. They often face a multitude of economic and social challenges, and many are the first members of their family to go to college.

But it’s doable. Before passing the resolution, the commission heard about    what some other states are doing to close the achievement gap.

Florida State University, for example, has implemented programs that offer more intensive intervention by faculty and staff with at-risk students to help keep those students on track. Over a decade, the university raised its on-time graduation rate for all students to 74 percent, while raising the graduation rate for African-American students to 77 percent and to 70 percent for Hispanic students.

Here in Indiana, an effort targeting minority students at Indiana State University in Terre Haute is showing early signs of success since it was launched three years ago. The effort includes a pre-college summer program to help minority students prepare for the rigors of college, plus multiple levels of support from faculty, staff and fellow students.

Joshua Taylor, ISU’s interim associate vice president for student success, said the retention rate for minority students – students who stayed in college rather than dropping out – went up by 8.5 percentage points in a year’s time.  

Taylor said the issues involved in keeping minority students in college are complex, but targeting resources to help them and other students at risk of dropping out seem to be paying off.

“We’ve seen an enormous step forward in closing our achievement gap,” Taylor said.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for CNHI, the Tribune-Star’s parent company. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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