Higher education leaders from across U.S. announce new initiative to expand college access and increase success for low-income and minority students

Publication date: Oct 31, 2007

WASHINGTON (October 31, 2007) – As national concern escalates about America’s global competitiveness, leaders from public college and university systems throughout the U.S. today announced a new national initiative to increase the number of college-educated Americans and ensure that graduates include far more young people from low-income and minority families.

Participants in the Access to Success initiative, a project of the National Association of System Heads (NASH), are stepping into the vanguard of higher education by publicly pursuing aggressive goals aimed at improving student outcomes and closing by at least half the gaps in both college-going and degree completion that separate low-income and minority students from others.

“The future of our nation demands more college graduates, and I’m pleased that our partners in university systems across the country are committed to meeting this challenge,” said Tom Meredith, NASH President and Commissioner of Higher Education for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.  “As it is around the country, too few of Mississippi’s young people are pursing higher education, and even among those who do, only about half actually graduate.  That’s not good for them, it’s not good for Mississippi, and it’s not good for the nation.”

Collectively, the 19 inaugural participants educate more than two million undergraduates nationwide and represent approximately one-third of the low-income and minority students attending four-year public colleges and universities in the U.S.  Therefore, what these systems do and whether they succeed matters both to their respective states and to the country as a whole.

“At the California State University, our 23 campuses have been working hard to improve access, and we’re seeing some good progress, including a nine percent increase in Latino freshmen just this year,” said Charles B. Reed, Chancellor of the California State University system.  “Access to Success focuses on the equally important challenge of successfully educating these students once we get them into our colleges and universities.”

Nationally, while college-going rates continue to rise overall, gaps between different groups of students are actually expanding in both access and college completion.  And African American students earn bachelors’ degrees at half (18%)—and Latinos at one-third (11%)—the rate of white students (34%). Currently, low-income students earn bachelors’ degrees at one-eighth the rate of their more advantaged counterparts (9% vs. 75% by age 24).

[Click here for more national data on college access and success]

Gaps like these threaten the health of our democracy and also threaten the health of our economy.  The United States no longer leads the world in the proportion of our citizenry with a two- or four-year degree at a time when advanced education matters more than ever.

Each of the Access to Success participants has set its own overall improvement targets.  But all will focus on a collective goal of cutting by at least half the gaps in college-going and college success that separate low-income and minority students from other young Americans by the year 2015.  Participating systems have agreed on a common set of metrics to evaluate their progress, and The Education Trust will release the data annually.  Some of this information has never before been publicly available, including the graduation rates of low-income students and the growing number of non-traditional students.

System leaders have chosen several areas for immediate cross-system attention, including:

  • Increasing student success in remedial courses and other large-enrollment, introductory courses;
  • Managing costs and investing in student success;
  • Improving preparation among entering students; and,
  • Maximizing financial aid for low-income students.

[Click here to download a copy of the Access to Success metrics]

William E. Kirwan, Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, stresses the importance of getting control of increases in the costs of going to college.

“The recent report from The College Board was a graphic reminder that the cost of attending college is continuing to rise by at least twice the rate of inflation,” said Kirwan.  “If we can’t keep costs under tighter control, neither our families nor our state legislatures will be able to keep up.  We’ve already begun to analyze and control costs in Maryland, and the cross-system work of this initiative will help us do that better and smarter.”

In Maryland, as in other state systems, the imperative to contain costs is directly related to the need to reinvest resources in areas with the most potential to increase degree attainment.  “My state needs thousands more graduates than we’re producing right now in science, math, engineering, and education. At the same time, Maryland’s high school graduates will be majority-minority students within the next two years.  We simply cannot meet the needs of our states without doing a better job with our underrepresented minority students,” said Kirwan.

The University of Puerto Rico, another Access to Success participant, is focusing on increasing the ability of low-income students to not only gain access to a college education, but to have a real choice of careers.  “There are many high-paying jobs on the Island for science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates,” said Antonio Garcia Padilla, President of the University of Puerto Rico System.  “But our data revealed that low-income young people are not entering those fields largely because they are not prepared.  As a result, we have enlisted both the mayors of our largest cities to help build the necessary laboratories and the educators in our high schools to teach the necessary courses so we can begin to turn these numbers around.”

Several of the participating systems are also taking the lead on the redesign of introductory courses.  “Even well-prepared students are failing or withdrawing from courses that they absolutely need in order to complete their degrees,” said Sally Clausen, President of the University of Louisiana System.  “Therefore, it was imperative to do some introspection and more closely examine how those courses were being taught.  It’s not about lowering standards; it’s about finding better ways to ensure student success in meeting them.”

Access to Success leaders are especially united on that point.  “We’re not trying to add another small program for minority or low-income students,” said Meredith.  “Instead, we’re trying to make our systems accessible to the full range of hardworking young people in our states.  Even more than that, we’re trying to step up and take responsibility for making our systems work better for all of the students they serve.”

“Increasing access and success for low-income and minority students doesn’t score any points in the popular college rankings, but it’s essential to restoring the promise of public higher education,” said Kati Haycock, President of The Education Trust, a partner in the Access to Success initiative. “These leaders are stepping up and doing the right thing.”

“This is a major undertaking,” said Martha D. Lamkin, President of Lumina Foundation, which is providing financial support for Access to Success as part of its Making Opportunity Affordable initiative.  “If these leaders can show that success is possible on such a large scale, the country as a whole will benefit enormously.”

Participating college and university systems in the Access to Success initiative include:

California State University System

Connecticut State University System

State University System of Florida

University of Hawaii System

Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

University of Louisiana System

Southern University and A&M College System

University of Maine System

University System of Maryland

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities

Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning

University of Missouri System

Montana University System

City University of New York

State University of New York

University of Puerto Rico System

Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education

South Dakota Board of Regents

Vermont State Colleges

Access to Success is supported in part by grants from Lumina Foundation for Education and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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About NASH

The National Association of System Heads (NASH) is the association of chief executives of the 52 college and university systems of public higher education in the United States.  The goal of the association is to improve the governance of public higher education systems.

About The Education Trust

The Education Trust was created to promote high academic achievement for all students, at all levels—pre-kindergarten through college. While we know that all schools could better serve their students, our work focuses on those most often left behind in plans to improve education: those serving African American, Latino, Native American and low-income students.

For further information about Access to Success, download the initiative brochure by clicking here.

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