Increasingly, there is a growing concern about the relationship between race and college degree completion. In this paper, we explore the relationship between racial and gender imbalances in bachelor’s degree attainment in the United States. We also examine the factors that affect college attendance and degree attainment, including the institutional features of colleges that students first attend.
Traditional-age students vs adult learners
Compared to traditional-age students, adult learners are more likely to complete a college degree. However, they face specific challenges. They often need to juggle multiple roles and have less time for social interaction. They also lack self-confidence upon re-entering college. The good news is that most educational institutions have adapted to the needs of adult learners. Nevertheless, there is a dearth of large-scale research. As a result, higher education institutions have been reluctant to take action.
Many institutions focus on the stereotypical student of a decade or two ago. But adults bring a wealth of life experiences to the classroom. These experiences may help them make sense of abstract concepts. A well-educated workforce requires an organizational embrace of diversity.
Adult learners also exhibit diverse learning styles. They may be interested in highly structured learning experiences. Similarly, they may prefer active learning strategies. They are also at risk of academic underachievement. Adult learners also have a high rate of dropout. However, if they achieve academic success, they will benefit from personal and social benefits.
Adult learners have challenged administrators and faculty. They have also challenged higher education institutions to re-think their approaches to supporting adult learners. They have challenged educators to learn more about the unique needs and experiences of adult learners.
Adult learners have also challenged traditional youth-centric environments. These environments have often been hostile to adult learners. They have also been the subject of descriptive analyses.
For example, a study by Milesi (2010) in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) examined the educational trajectories of a cohort of NLSY participants. It found that students who saw themselves as employees first were less likely to complete a degree in six years. However, they were also more likely to be married. This was not the case for Black and Hispanic participants.
However, a more comprehensive study by Tinto, V. in the University of Chicago Press examined the educational trajectories of the NLSY’s 1979 cohort. It found that, while educational trajectories were similar for all groups, Black and Hispanic participants had lower education completion rates. However, the education completion rate was also increased for Asian and White participants.
Gender imbalances coexist with racial gaps in bachelor’s degree attainment
Despite the many efforts to close the gender gap in education, the gaps remain largely unchanged. While the gender gap in enrollment has been narrowing since the 1990s, the gap in bachelor’s degree completion has remained relatively constant. In 2019, the gender gap in bachelor’s degree completion is 14 points larger than the gap in enrollment. In addition, the rate of bachelor’s degree completion among men over the age of 65 is 4.4 percentage points higher than among women. This means that two-thirds of men and women without a bachelor’s degree face a future of increasing mortality.
Although the gender gap in bachelor’s degree completion has been narrowing for several years, there is still a large gap among younger cohorts. These gaps are particularly large for men born between 1985 and 1994. In addition, racial/ethnic differences in educational attainment continued to widen over time.
The Black-Hispanic gap partially closed over time, but the Black-White gap remained nearly one year of education short. Regardless of race, individuals with a college diploma are more alike than those without one. Historically underserved groups have higher educational attainment at older ages, and more education continues to be obtained by those who continue schooling later.
The NLSY79 and NLSY97 cohorts were evenly split by gender, and most participants were White. However, the trajectories of the cohorts were different. The NLSY79 cohort was more likely to complete a Bachelor’s degree than the NLSY97 cohort, with the exception of the minority subgroup of Hispanic participants. The typical Hispanic participant’s trajectories were more likely to pursue a Bachelor’s degree than the typical White participant.
The Black-Hispanic gap was also smaller in the NLSY97 cohort than in the NLSY79 cohort. However, the White-Hispanic gap was slightly smaller in the NLSY97 cohort than the NLSY79 cohort.
Those who enroll in college are less likely to graduate within four years. Moreover, men born between 1985 and 1994 are eight percentage points less likely to have a bachelor’s degree than women. Although the Black-Hispanic gap is slowly closing, two-thirds of men and women without degrees face a future of increasing mortality.
Institutional features of college first attended (i.e., sector, level, and selectivity)
Several factors determine the success or failure of a college student. These factors include the type of student, the type of institution, selectivity, and campus climate. Often, the factors have a complex relationship with one another.
For example, students with more highly-educated parents are more likely to enroll in a prestigious four-year institution. At the same time, students with less-educated parents are more likely to attend a two-year institution. Similarly, students who are older are more likely to start college at a four-year institution than students who are younger. These differences in student characteristics lead to differences in completion rates.
Another factor that can influence racial completion disparities is selectivity. Selective institutions have higher entry requirements for grades and courses of study. They have also been noted to have higher completion rates. While selectivity does not explain all racial gaps, it can play a large role in racial completion disparities.
As a result, some institutions are more successful at minimizing racial gaps. For example, one study found that Hispanic students were more likely to enroll at two-year institutions than white students. However, when these students studied at a four-year institution, the completion rates were nearly identical. However, these students had a lower likelihood of graduating with a degree.
Similarly, Asian students had a higher completion rate than black students. However, Asian students also had a lower stop out rate. Asian students were also more likely to enroll in a four-year public institution.
While some studies have focused on the role of selectivity and family factors, others have highlighted the socioeconomic context of schools. These studies have shown that the number of subjects taken and grades can also play a role in racial completion disparities.
Although these studies have highlighted various factors that can play a role in racial and ethnic completion disparities, more research is needed to understand how these factors interact. For example, how does campus climate affect completion rates? And what is the relationship between socio-economic status and degree attainment? Lastly, is there any correlation between the level of academic preparation of incoming students and degree attainment?
Impact of race on rural youth
Despite the fact that studies have explored rural youth educational aspirations, the extent to which race impacts the likelihood of college degree completion is not known. Previous research has primarily focused on populations living in rural areas with agriculture or forest dependent economies. Research has also explored how differences in labor market outcomes and economic class affect youth aspirations. In some cases, however, the aspirations of rural youth may be in conflict with the opportunities of their community.
Rural youth have been shown to have lower educational aspirations than their urban counterparts. This may be because of emotional attachments to family or because of lower skilled jobs in rural communities. In addition, the lack of postsecondary educational institutions in rural areas may discourage youth from pursuing their educational aspirations.
Rural youth may also be at risk of moving away from their community to pursue higher education. Studies have shown that migration to non-rural areas is linked to better educational outcomes. However, migration is often accompanied by higher education costs. Moreover, studies have not fully understood the factors that contribute to migration.
A key factor is the size of the community. Rural youth are more likely to attend two-year colleges than to attend four-year colleges. Also, students are more likely to attend community colleges. This may attract urban-born youth. In addition, a lack of college role models may contribute to imposter syndrome and a lack of understanding of the rigors of college.
Literature has shown that community and school perceptions influence youth aspirations. In this study, school perceptions were evaluated using a scale variable containing statements on school climate, academic grades, and the local economy. Aspirations were positively correlated with school perceptions in a full model and in a dichotomous dependent variable.
Student engagement was also positively correlated with higher educational aspirations. Rural youth who participated in school and community activities were more likely to have higher aspirations. However, student perceptions of the local economy were not significantly correlated with higher aspirations in either model.
Research suggests that the education gap between rural and non-rural places has increased in the 21st century. Rural communities face complex mixtures of economic, demographic, and policy dynamics. Increasingly, college access programs are being implemented to help students prepare for higher education and to reduce gaps between low and high income students. These programs may help reduce the cost of pursuing college degrees and may encourage more students to enroll in college.
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