Student Achievement Opinion

Beyond Tuition: Needs-Based Grants Can Close Racial Attainment Gaps

By Urban Education Contributor — May 25, 2017 4 min read
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This week we are hearing from the Research Alliance for New York City Schools (@RANYCS). Today’s post is the practitioner perspective on the research introduced in Monday’s post: Inequities in College Access and Success: Findings From New York City.

This post is by Kevin Stump (@KevinStump), Northeast Director of Young Invincibles (@YoungInvincible). Young Invincibles is a co-lead organization of DegreesNYC and a Steering Committee Member of the CUNY Rising Alliance.

It’s no secret: today’s economy requires some type of college or postsecondary credential to enter the labor market, make a family-sustaining wage, and live a financially secure and independent life. Fortunately, New York City has made tremendous gains over the last 10 years in increasing high school graduation and college enrollment rates. Despite this overall increase however, there continues to be a glaring race gap. Additionally, the cost of college has skyrocketed in recent years and financial aid has become more complicated to access, making it even harder for low-income students to enter and stay in college.

New research from the Research Alliance for New York City Schools shows that a student’s race and family income are strongly associated with their odds of success in earning a college degree—and therefore being able to participate fully in the economy. Additionally, DegreesNYC has identified a number of system challenges that reinforce this race gap, such as lack of data to inform practice, overcomplicated systems across K-12 and higher education, and outdated and inadequate financial aid that doesn’t meet the needs of today’s students.

DegreesNYC is a collective impact project led by Young Invincibles and the Goddard Riverside Option Center that engages hundreds of college access and success stakeholders to develop system-wide solutions to close racial attainment gaps in New York City.

Here, I highlight some research findings from the Research Alliance for New York City Schools that demonstrate the persisting race gap and propose what I deem a crucial next step in closing it.

The Research Alliance’s recent study on college access and success in New York City shows that college access, persistence, and completion rates are persistently lower for Black and Latino students compared to their White and Asian counterparts. In addition, the study suggests that racial disparities may actually widen as students move into and through college. They find that among students who started 9th grade in 2003, the difference in high school graduation rates between the highest and lowest attaining groups—Asian and Latino students—was about 18 percentage points. This gap widened to 25 percentage points at college enrollment and to almost 28 points after one year of college.

Furthermore, there are significant disparities in college completion. For this same 2003 cohort, the Research Alliance finds that while 48 and 43 percent of Asian and White students, respectively, earned a college degree within six years of their scheduled high school graduation, just 20 percent of Latino and Black students did so. When the researchers looked at students’ neighborhood income, rather than race, they also found large gaps, including a 23 percentage point difference in degree attainment between students in the top quartile versus students in the bottom quartile.

These findings clearly demonstrate the persisting racial attainment gap in New York City that DegreesNYC and Young Invincibles seek to combat.

Despite the recent passage of the New York State Excelsior Scholarship, one of the greatest barriers to access and success for low-income students—most of whom are students of color—continues to be cost. That’s because for many students, the majority of costs associated with getting a college degree are non-tuition-related expenses, something the Excelsior Scholarship does nothing to address. Low-income students most likely receive tuition-related help through programs like the New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and federal Pell grants, but the non-tuition related costs are still a major barrier to degree attainment for these students.

New York needs a needs-based grant to cover non-tuition-related expenses for low-income city residents regardless of immigration status. With more than half of the City University of New York’s (CUNY) students coming from families with household incomes of less than $30,000 in one of the most expensive cities in the world, New York’s students are clearly in need of greater access to financial aid. This new grant could help students to cover non-tuition related costs such as books, transportation, food, housing, and more. With 75 percent of CUNY made up of students of color, investing in student financial aid is a matter of racial equity.

Eliminating cost as a barrier to staying in college and earning a degree is the next great challenge in making college truly accessible for more people in New York State and across the country. New York City must take this step to create more equitable pathways to economic opportunity.

The opinions expressed in Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.