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College inequality

New group seeks to solve inequality in RI college entrance and graduation rates

By Susan Gale

While Rhode Island’s graduation rate is 84%, the state’s students don’t do as well with college completion, especially when those students live at a low income.

Here is an interesting chart which shows statistics for students who receive Pell grants, which are awarded based on family income.

Community College of RI Providence College Rhode Island College University of Rhode island
Pell grant recipients’ 6-year graduation rates 22% 77% 47% 60%

In Rhode Island 61% of students enroll in college immediately after high school but those numbers vary based on race and income. When broken down that way, 49% of white students go directly to college while only 25% of Hispanic students and 31% of black students do.

What drives the inequality in college entrance, why are college graduation rates so much lower, and what can be done to improve these issues? Those questions are the mission of a new local group. Called The Rhode Island Alliance for College and Career Readiness, the group has seven founding member organizations – RI KIDS COUNT, The College Crusade of Rhode Island, Young Voices, College Visions, The College Advising Corps at Brown University’s Swearer Center, the NAACP – Providence Branch, and the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University.

As for why these questions are important to answer for Rhode Island – it comes down to quality of life with people having a Bachelor’s degree earning, on average, $1.5 M more over their lifetime than those with only a high school degree.

The Bottom Line

The Alliance met on Monday December 9, 2019, to examine the issue and begin to develop solutions.

They heard a speaker from Bottom Line, a national organization that works on the issue. Steve Colon, CEO, who was the first in his family to complete collage, told how his older brother tried collage but 12 years later is still working on his Associates Degree. The story was different for him because a fellow student took him under his wing and made sure he knew what to do to succeed. “He made me think about my life in a way I had never thought before.” Colon said.

Colon said that students need three things to succeed in college:

  • Every high school student deserves an advisor who has the data necessary to help that student.
  • Getting in isn’t enough – students need help with the complexity of systems throughout college.
  • People with the same experiences need to be part of the organizations working to help students.

“We have to prepare them for higher ed because higher ed is not prepared for them,” he said. “Relationships become important because you need to know where you are going to succeed and fit in.”

For Bottom Line, their method works as their students have a 76% graduation rate and 72% of graduates are employed 6 months after college, making two times the salary of their family.

RI Organizations need to work together differently

Also speaking at the event was RI’s Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green. She had a harsher message for the audience: they need to work together differently to succeed in improving RI’s education system.

“We keep looking at data and talking about it but we have to move,” Infante-Green said. “There are a lot of committed people and organizations doing it in different ways. That’s why we’re having trouble, we are not aligned.”

Infante-Green said Rhode Island also needs to have a more honest discussion about the differences in high school and college graduation rates between different races and incomes. She told how she spoke to customers at Boscov’s department store in Providence Place Mall and saw a that a portion of people had no interest in helping children that live in Providence.

“Part of it is that they don’t have kids or their kids don’t look like these kids,” she said. “We have to create this plan to be on the same page. Everybody has their pet project. Our kids are not Guinea pigs. We need to be going in the same direction and expecting the same outcomes.”

Rhode Island is sixth in the nation

Paige Clausius-Parks of RI KIDS COUNT discussed FAFSA – the large document that must be completed in order for a student to receive aid for college. In RI, she said, 71% of students complete the FAFSA – leaving about 3,000 who do not. RI is sixth in the nation based on the number of students that fill out the form.

The group in attendance considered the idea of making the FAFSA a graduation requirement though most seemed opposed to that if it doesn’t come with additional resources to make it happen and if it doesn’t provide protections for undocumented students.

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