June 20, 2018

Report: CT degree attainment improving among minority students

PHOTO | University of St. Joseph
PHOTO | University of St. Joseph
University of St. Joseph is one of CCIC's 16 member institutions.

Connecticut's efforts to boost higher education degree attainment rates among African-American and Latino students has slightly bridged the achievement gap, state officials said.

Since 2000, degree attainment among both groups in Connecticut has increased at a higher-than-average rate, according to a recent report by the Education Trust.

The report says African-American students improved their degree attainment rate by more than 10 percent, the fourth highest improvement in the U.S. since 2000. Latino student attainment rates increased by 6.7 percent, the eighth largest jump in the country, over that time.

The encouraging report follows the state's Strategic Master Plan for Higher Education implemented in 2015, which calls for a 70 percent attainment goal among higher education students.

But despite the improved scores, school officials argue more awareness and funding is needed to lessen Connecticut's attainment gaps between whites and students of color -- one of the nation's largest disparities.

Meantime, the state's attainment gap between white and African-American students is the worst in the nation and nearly last between Latino and white students.

"We still have a lot of work to do as far as closing degree attainment gaps in our state," CSCU President Mark Ojakian said. "Over 90% of our students are from Connecticut and almost 80% of them find employment after they graduate. However, there is an entire population being missed, which equates to missed opportunities for our state and its employers."

Jennifer Widness, the president of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges (CCIC), says financial assistance is key in improving the attainment gap among underserved populations.

That's why CCIC awards financial aid to more than 80 percent of first-year students at its 16-member institutions in Connecticut, Widness said. CCIC's member institutions, including Trinity College, the University of Hartford and Yale University, have also upped their student aid packages by more than 110 percent in the last decade.

Widness called on state lawmakers to prioritize similar funding increases after the legislature reduced its need-based financial aid program by $30 million, or almost 50 percent, in recent years.

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