Our country has shifted its conversation from college access to college completion as the new measure of success, sometimes overlooking the fundamental premise that you have to start to finish. Or, as they say when the Powerball jackpot nears record amounts, “You gotta be in it to win it.”
Talent is everywhere, opportunity is not. Access is still broken in many ways – equity gaps, affordability challenges, quality issues and a belief that college is not for everyone – to name a few. Consider the following:
- Students from low-income high schools (50+% FRPL) were 38% less likely to immediately enroll in college following high school graduation than students from higher-income high school (<50% FRPL).
- An astounding 75 percent of residential four-year institutions – including 90 percent of flagship institutions – failed NCAN’s affordability test to determine if average Pell Grant recipients with related federal and state aid, including loans and part-time employment, could afford the cost of attendance.
- On average, for every 10-percentage-point increase in the proportion of children living in poverty, a school district’s FAFSA completion rate for the 2018 senior class was 2.3 percentage points lower, indicating that students who need aid the most were least likely to know about and apply for it.
We must battle a narrative that “college isn’t for everyone” as both an equity crisis and an economic one. The solution to access is fueled by awareness and affordability. High-quality, affordable college must be an option for all who seek it. Students must have real choice in their career paths, not be closed out of opportunities that break the cycle of inequity for students and their families. We must be fierce advocates for need-based aid, accountability for student outcomes and programs that provide students with high-quality credentials for a changing labor market.
As the executive director of the National College Access Network, an organization committed to closing the equity gaps in postsecondary attainment through our national voice and the work of our member programs in communities across the country, I see first-hand that demography does not have to be destiny. Students from the high school Class of 2016 who were served by NCAN programs enrolled in postsecondary education at a rate of 68%. That number outperformed the National Student Clearinghouse benchmark for low-income students by 14 points.
We are committed to closing equity gaps in postsecondary attainment by supporting and engaging partners like you across the pipeline from K12 to non-profits and community organizations to higher education and then employers. Our coordinated efforts will help more students access postsecondary education on the road to our shared goal of completion.