A one-hour intervention focused on “difference education” can close the achievement gap by 63 percent for first-generation students, according to a study described in an upcoming article in Psychological Science.
In the difference-education intervention, third- and fourth-year student panelists discussed problems and success strategies that they linked to their social class. In the “standard intervention,” they discussed the same issues without talking about their family backgrounds.
A panelist in the difference-education intervention said: “Because my parents didn’t go to college, they weren’t always able to provide me the advice I needed. So it was sometimes hard to figure out what classes to take and what I wanted to do in the future. But there are other people who can provide that advice, and I learned that I needed to rely on my adviser more than other students.”
A panelist in the standard intervention also talked about the difficulty of choosing classes and of the need to rely on professors, mentors and other campus resources but did not mention her social class background.
First-generation students who’d heard advice based on social class at the start of the year earned higher grades and “reported better outcomes on psychological well-being, social fit, perspective taking and appreciation of diversity” than similar students who’d received the standard intervention. They were more likely to meet with professors outside of class and get extra tutoring.
“Students whose parents have earned a degree come to college with lots of know-how and cultural capital that helps them navigate college’s often unspoken rules,” Northwestern psychologist Nicole Stephens says. “Talking about social class gives first-generation students a framework to understand how their own backgrounds matter in college, what unique obstacles they may face and see that people like them can be successful.”
Young black Californians are less educated than their parents’ generation, according to The State of Blacks in Higher Education in California: The Persistent Opportunity Gap by the Campaign for College Opportunity. Black freshmen and transfer students have the lowest completion rates at community colleges, California State University campuses and the University of California.
“The report reveals a troubling pattern,” said Michele Siqueiros, Executive Director of the Campaign for College Opportunity, the organization that produced the study. “Instead of trending up, Black success in higher education remains flat and in some cases, it’s trending downward.”
Only 30 percent of black Californians 25 to 34 years old have completed an associate degree or higher, compared to 35 percent for those 35 to 44 and 33 percent for those 45 to 54. “We have a system that promotes college access, but doesn’t equally promote success and completion,” said Siqueiros.
Black students have the lowest high school graduation rate of any ethnic group and the second-lowest rate of completing college-prep courses, next to Latinos. They are more likely to attend for-profit colleges and community colleges, less likely to enroll at state universities.
The Campaign recommends creating a higher education plan with statewide and college-by-college goals for lowering the number of black students in remedial courses and increasing completion rates. Funding should create incentives for increasing graduation rates for blacks and Latinos, the nonprofit recommends. In addition, expand “college knowledge” about financial aid and the college application process and invest in orientation, counseling and peer tutoring.
A closer look at the Academically Adrift study, which found “limited learning” on campus, shows a brighter picture, argues Sara Goldrick-Rab. College students made significant learning gains, she writes on Education Optimists.
First-year students with a high school-educated parent start out well behind (.47 standard deviations) students whose parents completed graduate school, she writes. “The learning gains made during college are equivalent in size to the advantage that a student from an educationally-advantaged family holds over a first-generation student.”
Advantaged students make bigger gains during college, so the gap increases slightly. But all students end up ahead of where they started.
Social inequalities are very hard to close—we won’t be reassigning children to new parents anytime soon. But four years of college clearly raises student achievement, and it is an intervention we can promote and can afford.
“College is transformative for learning,” for most students, Goldrick-Rab concludes. “The real tragedy is that higher education does not focus more attention on the neediest students in order to close the gaps that affect the stability and fabric of our everyday lives.”
Learning online is especially difficult for lower-achieving students concludes a working paper by researchers at Columbia’s Community College Research Center. Younger students, males and blacks also did worse in online courses than in traditional face-to-face courses, researchers found after analyzing nearly 500,000 courses taken by more than 40,000 community and technical college students in Washington State.
“Low-cost online courses could allow a more-diverse group of students to try college, but . . . also widen achievement gaps,” notes the Chronicle of Higher Education.
All students who take more online courses are less likely to attain a degree, the study found. But it’s worse for more vulnerable students.
“We found that the gap is stronger in the underrepresented and underprepared students,” said Shanna Smith Jaggars, one of the authors. “They’re falling farther behind than if they were taking face-to-face courses.”
Online learning can still be a great tool, she said, particularly for older students who juggle studying and raising a family. For those students, as well as female and higher-performing students, the difference between online and physical classrooms was more marginal, according to the study.
“So for older students, you can sort of see the cost-benefit balance in favor of taking more courses online,” Ms. Jaggars said. “They might do a little worse, but over all it’s a pretty good trade-off for the easier access. But where a student doesn’t need online courses for their access, it’s unclear if that is a good trade-off.”
Writing courses attracted many poor learners, the study found. Online students had the grestest difficulties with social science courses, such as psychology and anthropology, and the applied professions, such as business and nursing.
Researchers suggested screening out students likely to do poorly, providing early warnings for struggling students, teaching online learning skills in some courses and/or working to improve the quality of online courses.
These colleges improved graduation rates, closed achievement gaps and changed lives, said the nonprofit. For example, Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas strengthened remedial education coursework and increased the college’s three-year completion rate to 24 percent from 10 percent over a four-year period.
Unless the K-12 achievement gap narrows, it’s unlikely that many more blacks and Hispanics will earn four-year college degrees, writes Emily Badger on Miller-McCune. There is potential for “middle-skill jobs” that require two-year degrees or certificates.
Only 15 percent of Hispanics and blacks, a growing percentage of the workforce, hold a four-year degree, compared to 32 percent of Asians and whites.
A high school diploma isn’t enough for workers and a four-year degree is unrealistic for many, says Alan Berube, who contributed to a new Brookings Institution report, the “State of Metropolitan America.”
“Rather than think we have to move everybody who doesn’t have a four-year degree over that bar,” he said, “we could work on the availability and opportunity for what people call these middle-skill jobs that demand a certification or an associate’s degree.”
. . . Berube suggests we should also invest more heavily in the higher-education institutions most capable of reaching minority students: not just historically black colleges, but community colleges as well.
Only 10 percent of Hispanic drop-outs go on to earn a GED, half the rate of blacks and one third the rate of whites, reports the Pew Hispanic Center. Hispanics also are less likely to complete high school: 41 percent of Hispanic adults lack a regular high school diploma, compared with 23 percent of blacks and 14 percent of whites.
Those figures include immigrants who may not have attended U.S. schools and don’t understand the need for a GED or how to earn one, Pew’s Richard Fry tells AP. “The longer foreign-born Latinos without a high school degree are in the United States, the more likely they are to earn a GED.” However, only 21 percent of U.S. born Hispanic drop-outs earn a GED, a rate similar to blacks.
Four in 10 students with a GED pursue additional education, compared to only 1 in 10 of those without an alternative degree. Students with a GED are also able to apply and enroll in degree-granting colleges and universities.
The high drop-out rate and the low GED completion rate keep a sizeable number of Hispanics on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.