Report: Closing California’s racial education gap key to regional economies

150 150 Alexandra Bjerg

(photo credit: John Walker)

The educational achievement gap between black and white students in California remains startlingly wide, says the Campaign for College Opportunity. Compared to all other ethnic groups, according to a new report released by the education advocacy group, African Americans are the least likely to graduate from high school and have the lowest college completion rate in the state’s public colleges and universities.

“The report reveals a troubling pattern,” said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity. “Instead of trending up, black success in higher education remains flat and in some cases, it’s trending downward. But with the right policies and funding levels, we could see black achievement respond positively.”

The racial achievement gap has potentially significant economic consequences for California, which is home to the nation’s fifth largest black population. In fact, Siqueiros said, “in certain regions of our state, the success of our local economies will really depend on whether we increase educational success for black students.”

Knowledge based-industries comprise a growing share of the state’s economy, fueling a surge in demand for highly skilled and educated workers. To meet projected workforce demand, California must dramatically increase educational attainment rates, particularly within communities of color. If not, it’s estimated that by 2025, California will face a shortage of 2.3 million college graduates.

The good news is more black Californians are earning bachelor’s degrees. Over the last decade, the proportion of the population with college degrees has risen 5 percent. Despite these gains, the gap in baccalaureate attainment between black and white students has narrowed by only 1 percent during the same period.

“It’s incredibly disheartening that we still have not made much progress,” said Jamillah Moore, Ventura California Community College District Chancellor.

Although college enrollment among African Americans is on the rise, they have the second-lowest rate of degree attainment. Less than one third of black adults 25 and older has earned an associate’s degree or higher, compared to nearly half of white adults. The report reveals black students are more likely than their peers to drop out out of college, attributing to the disparity in college graduation rates.

“A disproportionate number of black college students are not completing a certificate or college degree,” Siqueiros said. “We have a system that promotes college access, but doesn’t equally promote success and completion.”

In an effort to ensure students of color are successful, Moore stressed the importance of investing in student services and identifying best practices. “The need to make data-driven decisions is absolutely evident,” she added.

Finding that California’s black youth have lower education levels than that of their parents, the study reveals that our education system has produced a generation of workers that is less educated than their predecessors. That means the current wave of young adults entering the workforce are likely to be ill equipped to plug holes in the workforce created by retiring baby boomers.

Access to deep and robust pools of well-educated workers drives economic growth. Given the rising demand for a highly-educated workforce, California must strengthen the higher education pipeline to ensure black student success. Future economic prosperity and sustainability hinges on the state’s ability to bolster the next generation of workers with the knowledge and skills to compete in a 21st century economy.


Alexandra Bjerg

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