California’s Educational Divide for Patrick Kelly
As a senior
associate at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems
(NCHEMS), Patrick Kelly recently completed a major analysis of national
population and education trends. What he found is that as minority
populations continue to grow, their level of education is not following
suit, and the situation is most critical in California. He explains here
how we’ll all suffer if the trends continue to 2020, and what we can do
now to make sure they change direction.
What was the
point of this study?
We think most people are aware of the disparities in educational
attainment for minorities, but just a snapshot on a yearly basis doesn’t
show where this is leading. By showing the trends of what the situation
will look like in 2020 versus 2000, we hope we’ve shown people the
gravity of the situation.
What are the
specifics of the trends?
The first is the increasing value of a college education. More and
more, people will need a college education to get the jobs they are
looking for. At the same time, we saw major spikes in minority
population, particularly among Hispanics/Latinos to the point that the
Hispanic/Latino population will equal the White population by 2020.
Then, we saw that while Whites and Asians are improving in terms of the
number of people receiving a college education, minorities including
Hispanics/Latinos, African-Americans, and Native Americans are not only
not catching up, they’re falling further behind. So, in a nutshell, the
least educated populations are growing at the highest rates. That’s a
What are the
consequences of this growing divide in education?
If the current disparities and population trends continue, the U.S.
and California won’t have the same levels of skill and knowledge it
currently has. In turn, states’ coffers will be hurt since it’s been
shown educated citizens make more money, thus paying more in taxes.
On a global perspective, what does this suggest for the U.S.?
We’re falling further behind other countries. In the past decade,
we’ve gone from being the second most educated country to the firth or
sixth for people ages 25 to 34. If we don’t do something about this,
we’ll continue to fall further behind.
You wanted to point out the problems, but there are also things we
can do to change these trends, right?
Certainly. We hope this report will force people to acknowledge that
the problems exist and that they’re getting worse. From there, though,
we hope it will start a dialog at the state policy level to improve
education. Education is the major vehicle for change and it starts with
a coherent statewide plan.
What are some
things that could be done to reverse the trends?
The first step is creating greater equality from pre-school to grade
12 for everyone. Schools serving minority communities have notoriously
been under-funded and underserved. The second thing is targeted
financial aid. We’ve seen a move to merit-based financial aid, and while
that seems to make sense on its own, you need to target the neediest
populations to have financial aid fight these trends. We also need to do
a better job with at-risk students once they enter college to make sure
we see them through graduation. Finally, and this is the most removed
suggestion but one of the most important, there needs to be some sort of
a statewide accountability program that holds institutions accountable
for serving and getting minorities through to graduation.
would it be to develop such a statewide accountability program?
It must start at the top and requires buy-in through government on
down to the state education system. A problem with California in the
past is that the higher education system is somewhat disjointed –
there’s the UC system, the CSU system, and the community colleges. They
do work together now, but would have to do so more to make a successful
accountability system. It can be done, though. Texas has a program
called “Closing the Gaps” focused on these trends. They face the same
trends as California. Closing the Gaps is an accountability system built
on serving minority groups better and making sure they get through the
education pipeline with a college degree. The silver lining in
California is that you’ve got a great educational system; you just have
to figure out how to make it work for everyone.
All of that can
seem pretty far removed from what we can do individually.
On a community level, there are a lot of things people can do like
working with students much earlier than 11th or 12th
grade to get college on their radar screens. We need to instill
confidence in them, to show them that they can go to college because a
lot of students have already decided they are not college material by as
early as seventh grade. Plus, we can show them that there are lots of
financial aid opportunities out there. A lot of students don’t even know
financial aid exists. It’s also important for business leaders to have
meaningful dialogs with their employees too.
How can conversations with employees make a difference?
Promoting education among employees and their families is critical
so that this is not just something that happens within schools. If
businesses can’t become more engaged in this process, it often doesn’t
work. And really, they’re only helping themselves since this trickles
back to the services and community in which they operate.
What could be the impact of reversing these trends?
We found that if Hispanics/Latinos, African-Americans, and Native
Americans achieved the same levels of education as Whites by 2020,
California’s personal income would increase by $101.6 billion (in
today’s dollar values). That’s pretty compelling.