Among the states with the largest Latino populations, Colorado has the largest disparity between white and Latino residents attaining post-secondary education, according to a new report.
Colorado is one of nine states with at least one million Latino residents, but it has the highest attainment gap of those states: Sixty-four percent of white residents have completed a high-quality certificate, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree or more, as compared to 39 percent of black residents and 29 percent of Latinos residents, according to a 68-page report released Tuesday by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
In the report, titled “Rocky Mountain Divide: Lifting Latinos and Closing Equity Gaps in Colorado,” the authors list findings and recommendations for the state to achieve educational equity.
“Colorado, with its fast-growing Latino population, is a bellwether state for explaining the college to career pipeline,” they wrote. “The state’s efforts can inform how the rest of the nation addresses leaks throughout the pipeline that widen attainment gaps between Whites and Latinos.”
The authors noted that although Colorado has the second most-educated adult populace, that is due in part to college-educated people moving to the state, rather than residents who are being educated here.
They proposed various solutions, including expanding high school counseling and career exploration programs and building stronger pathways between certificate, associate’s and bachelor’s programs.
“In order to have equity of occupation and opportunity, we need to have equity of education,” said Megan Fasules, report co-author and assistant research professor at Georgetown University.
Dan Baer, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, said the report was not surprising but did underscore the importance of the ongoing work by his department and others in the state to improve education for all.
“There aren’t any huge surprises to us” Baer said. “In fact, the content of the report speaks to the set of issues that has inspired and continues to inspire our work every day and that is behind the master plan that we have.”
One of the department’s four major goals outlined in its 2017 master plan is to “erase equity gaps” by increasing post-secondary attainment for Coloradans to 66 percent by 2025, including a 66 percent attainment goal for Hispanic residents, a 66 percent attainment goal for African American residents and a 66 percent attainment goal for Native American residents.
Fasules said that set Colorado apart when she and her Georgetown colleagues researched other states. Most states have an overall attainment goal, she said, but “Colorado does take it a step further” by specifying a goal for each group. Another state might reach its attainment goal, but without specific criteria it might leave some ethnic groups behind, she said.
The report authors also suggested the creation of a unified governance and accountability system to link efforts throughout the state, but Baer said that would not be politically feasible, at least right now. He said increased state funding could be helpful in closing the attainment gap, though.
“We also have the third lowest funding of higher ed per student in the country,” Baer said. “We are currently at 55 percent of what the national average funding is per student. While I don’t think that necessarily more money always means better results, those aren’t totally disconnected outcomes.”
Joe Garcia, the new president of the Colorado Community College System, said the report’s findings were not surprising to him either, but such reports provide value in that they raise awareness about the need for more resources and investment in the state’s education.
Baer added that the state’s agencies and public schools, colleges and universities have forged partnerships and found ways to work together, despite a more decentralized approach.
Such efforts, he said, are important not only to achieve social justice for the state’s residents but also to prepare them for an increasingly automated and evolving job market.
“We should do it for all of the social justice reasons and because we care about the people who are our neighbors, our colleagues and people we see around town and around the state, but we should do it also because this is the way to lay the groundwork for a strong economic future for our state,” Baer said.
Equity in Boulder County
Baer and his staff pointed to various programs in Boulder County that support equity in education.
They cited, for example, the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative, which during its 2016-17 grant cycle gave more than $273,000 in matching scholarship grants to the I Have a Dream Foundation in Boulder on behalf of Boulder County and nearly $80,000 to the University of Colorado Foundation on behalf of the Boulder campus. The initiative seeks to fund programs to prepare students for post-secondary education and aid them to complete it, as well as provide matching funds for community scholarships.
At Front Range Community College, they said, the staff developed a college-wide inclusion philosophy and are developing a plan to achieve equity in outcomes for students from under-represented groups.
At CU, they highlighted the Pre-Collegiate Development Program, designed to prepare middle and high school students who will be first-generation higher education students; the CU LEAD Alliance, on-campus academic learning communities; and the First Generation Scholars program, which provides services to first-generation students.
David Aragon, CU’s assistant vice chancellor for diversity, learning and student success, highlighted those programs, as well as the university’s partnerships with local organizations like the Denver Scholarship Foundation, the Daniels Fund, the Latin American Education Foundation or the Boulder County Latina Women’s League to improve outcomes for students at CU.
In the 2017 fall census, about 11 percent of CU’s 33,246 students were Hispanic/Latino, according to data provided by the university.
“The combined efforts of individual schools and school districts, community-based organizations, higher education institutions, and to some degree investment from the private sector is getting some results,” Baer said. “We’re seeing some trends. It’s a gradual process. It’s step by step.”