So Close, Yet So Far: Ambition and Expense Collide as Minority Students Seek Higher Education

So Close, Yet So Far: Ambition and Expense Collide as Minority Students Seek Higher Education

Minority students face a number of challenges as they enter higher education (including entering it, as this recent New York Times item highlights)—not the least of which are the economic hurdles. Two recent articles focus on the uphill battle faced by minority students as they engage with higher education—from weighing the decision to apply, to enrolling and matriculating, to successfully graduating. At every stage, money is a major issue.

Allegra Haynes and Regina Rodriguez, members of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, recently published a post on The Hill, the D.C.-based congressional blog hub, in which they cited the commission’s goal of having 2/3 of its residents aged 24-34 possess a “high-quality” post-secondary education by the year 2025. “Our future workforce,” they put it, “and our commitment to equity—requires no less.”

[W]e must eliminate the large and growing disparities in educational attainment across different groups of students, in particular those among low income students and students of color. While Colorado ranks high nationally in overall educational attainment, it also has among the largest degree attainment gaps in the country. That is, the college completion gap between white citizens and minority citizens—predominantly Hispanic/Latino Coloradans—is wider in our state than almost any other state.

It’s an impressive goal, and one that Haynes and Rodriguez recognize as ambitious. To succeed, significant changes are necessary; they cite the recent revamping of Colorado’s financial aid system:

…a reform that powerfully leverages public dollars to provide more funding to institutions that successfully serve low-income students.

Our policy is simple: Campuses receive larger financial aid allocations from the state when low income students make satisfactory academic progress. …Next year, the Commission will also consider providing financial “disincentives” — meaning that campuses will receive less money if their low income students are taking too long to finish their degrees.


Classroom diversity has been shown to enhance the educational experience, but the barriers to the classroom are significant for minority students.

This approach is encouraging, in the face of another, more daunting take on the experience of minority students, posted at by Kai Wright. In her piece, “Young, black and buried in debt,” Wright identifies a new growth industry: for-profit degree mills marketing to African-Americans with aspirations to economic advancement.

…Between 2004 and 2010, black enrollment in for-profit bachelor’s programs grew by a whopping 264 percent, compared to a 24 percent increase in black enrollment in public four-year programs. The two top producers of black baccalaureates in the class of 2011 were University of Phoenix and Ashford University, both for-profits.

Sounds like a positive trend, right? However:

They’ve landed, disproportionately, at for-profit schools, rather than at far less expensive public community colleges, or at public universities. And that means they’ve found themselves loaded with unimaginable debt, with little to show for it, while a small group of financial players have made a great deal of easy money.

And, unfortunately, the grim truth behind the sunny ambitions that underscore this trend is discouraging, to say the least:

The loan default rate among for-profit college students is more than double that of their peers in both public and nonprofit private schools, because the degrees and certificates the students are earning are trap doors to more poverty, not springboards to prosperity.

It seems clear that simply attaining a degree is not enough. As Haynes and Rodriguez point out,

The most significant benefits of a college education, to the student and society, occur when a student actually earns a credential, whether it is a certificate or degree. Higher education usually rewards only enrollment—through tuition dollars—with no added incentives for progress, completion or success with high-risk populations.

Where do you think the answer lies—is it in state funding (to support economic advancement in minority demographics), in education about education (to help people avoid making costly mistakes), or another area entirely? Let us know your thoughts, below.

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One comment

  1. I think state funding need to have some resources in place to assist with students who do choose a for profit education due to the fact that this education can become costly.

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