Study points to a college ‘graduation gap’

A New York Times columnist wrote last week about an unsettling demographic trend in higher education — one that could have implications in states such as Idaho.

Colleges are doing a better job of recruiting low-income students. But barely 10 percent of these students leave college with a degree.

“The college-graduation rate for these poorer students is abysmal,” David Leonhardt wrote in a March 25 column. “It’s abysmal even though many of them are talented teenagers capable of graduating. Yet they often attend colleges with few resources or colleges simply do a bad job of shepherding students through a course of study.”

Worse still, he writes, many of these students leave school with no degree and a heavy student loan debt — “the worst of both worlds.”

The column was based on a recent study by the University of Michigan.

Idaho is hoping to boost its postsecondary completion rates. By 2025, state leaders want 60 percent of Idaho’s 25- to 34-year-olds to hold a college degree or professional certificate. But the state’s postsecondary completion rate is stuck at 42 percent.

In hopes of getting this number out of neutral, the state is investing tens of millions of dollars to try to convince high school students to continue their education. Several of the efforts — such as increased college scholarships and an “advanced opportunities” program to cover the cost of college-level classes — are designed to make college more affordable for low-income students.

More reading: In our in-depth series, “Life After High School,” we examine Idaho’s struggles to reach the “60 percent goal.”

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