WASHINGTON, D.C. – New research from the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) reveals persistent gaps in college access and completion at six state flagship universities in the Great Lakes region. Despite changing demographics and increasing proportions of high school graduates who are students of color, public flagships in the Great Lakes region are falling short of enrolling and graduating low-income students and students of color.
Public flagship universities are premier institutions that were established to provide educational opportunities to state residents. They have great power to advance social and economic mobility. Yet in many cases, too few low-income students and students of color can access these elite institutions. And for the students of color and low-income students who do enter, many complete at rates far below their White peers.
The new series of “Equity Snapshots,” titled Inequities Persist: Access and Completion Gaps at Public Flagships in The Great Lakes Region, identify enrollment and completion trends at six Great Lakes flagships:
- Indiana University – Bloomington
- Ohio State University – Main Campus
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
- University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
- University of Wisconsin – Madison
“Flagship universities bear an unmatched responsibility to provide exceptional educational opportunities to state residents,” said IHEP President Michelle Asha Cooper. “As our college-going population becomes increasingly diverse, these premier institutions must be catalysts of social and economic mobility for state residents, while boldly disrupting existing racial and socioeconomic inequities. What institutions do matters, and this work is urgent, necessary and long overdue.”
To assess inequities in access at each flagship university, the “Equity Snapshots” compare the percentage of students of color in the incoming freshman class to the statewide percentage of high school graduates of color, alongside enrollment of low-income students at each flagship to low-income college students within the state. To assess completion inequities, the snapshots compare the graduation rates of underrepresented minority students to White students, alongside graduation rates for low-income students and non-low-income students.
IHEP researchers examined enrollment trends for underrepresented minority students at each state flagship university over several decades. While these universities are, for the most part, enrolling slightly more Black, Latino, and low-income students than in the past, this progress has not kept pace with changing state demographics. In fact, the access gap for Black students is widening at some flagships. While overall graduation rates have increased at several of the flagships, low-income students and students of color still receive degrees at lower rates than their White and higher-income peers. Colleges could and should be doing more to ensure marginalized students have true opportunities to succeed.
Additional key findings include:
- In 2016, low-income students graduated from Indiana University – Bloomington at a rate 13 percentage points lower than non-low-income students.
- While 14 percent of Ohio’s high school graduates were Black in spring 2016, Black students made up just 4 percent of Ohio State University - Main Campus’ incoming freshman class that fall.
- In spring 2016, 38 percent of high school graduates in Illinois were students of color, while just 20 percent of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s incoming freshman class were students of color that fall.
- While 16 percent of Michigan’s high school graduates were Black in spring 2016, Black students made up just 4 percent of University of Michigan -Ann Arbor’s incoming freshman class that fall.
- In 2016, less than two-thirds (64 percent) of students of color graduated from University of Minnesota Twin Cities in six years, compared with 80 percent of White students.
- Despite narrowing completion gaps over the past two decades, University of Wisconsin Madison still graduates underrepresented minority students at a rate 10 percentage points lower than White students.
“Public universities in the Great Lakes have long given talented rural and urban students a chance to live better lives than their parents,” said Sameer Gadkaree, senior program officer at The Joyce Foundation. "If they are to remain engines of economic mobility for the next generation, they will need to keep up with the changing demographics of their state’s high school students. This troubling data should galvanize college and public sector leaders to adequately fund these colleges and to ensure they offer opportunities to students of different races and family income backgrounds.”
Each “Equity Snapshot” assesses the flagship’s implementation of five equity-driven policies and practices that can exclude qualified low-income applicants and applicants of color. This policy analysis recommends prioritizing need-based aid and eliminating early decision admissions, legacy preferences, and consideration of a students’ demonstrated interest or previous interactions with the criminal justice system.