Study: Challenge in Income-based Inequality Degree Attainment

“I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country — and this country needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”

– President Obama, 2009 address to a joint session of congress.

Increased scrutiny of college degree attainment is related to concern over the nation’s ability to remain competitive in an economy that is becoming more globally inclusive and complex. Many believe the nation’s standing and competitiveness is be- ing jeopardized as numerous countries begin and continue to surpass the United States in degree attainment. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2010), the United States ranks 12th out of 36 developed countries in the number of 25- to 34-year-old adults with some type of college degree (link). OECD data indicate that an increasing number of countries will catch or surpass the United States in tertiary degree attainment in coming years due to the lack of progress in educational attainment among the younger segment of adult Americans compared to their same- age peers in other countries.

In a new brief, Developing 20/20 Vision on the 2020 Degree Attainment Goal: The Threat of Income-Based Inequality in Education, the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education argues that most federal education policy discussions neglect to develop targeted interventions for students from low-income and working-class families. Using analysis from acclaimed higher education researcher Tom Mortenson, the report highlights that bachelor’s degree attainment for students from the wealthiest half of American families is higher than the bachelor’s degree attainment rates for all countries included in the OECD international comparison analysis. On the other hand, American students from families in the bottom half of the income distribution rank nearly last among other OECD countries in bachelor’s degree attainment.

Policy Recomendations:

1. Set and track goals to reduce income-based disparities on key educational outcomes related to the 2020 goal.

2. Funnel federal dollars, such as Title I funds, to the low-income, underperforming students who need it most. Invest in ways that offset disparities in per student expenditures created by state and local policies that give an advantage to students in wealthy school districts and neighborhoods.

3. Protect the Pell Grant against cuts that will reduce college access for low-income students.

4. Increase supplemental college access and support services for low-income students throughout the educational pipeline. Tap into the many benefits of supplemental academic support and outreach services such as TRIO and GEAR UP that are needed to help students from low-income families with the support they need to enroll and excel in college.

The recommendations they offer will not singlehandedly achieve the Administration’s goal, but they provide reasonable solutions that can help the nation reduce income-based inequalities in educational attainment and make progress toward the goal pos- sible by the year 2020.

Valley High-GEAR UP Graduates 94 Percent of Seniors

Valley High School in Elk Grove, CA, a California GEAR UP school, celebrated last night as 94% of their senior class (the GEAR UP cohort) walked across the stage and received their diplomas. The atmosphere in the room was electric, as the seniors, their families, and school staff enjoyed a near perfect graduation rate.

The California GEAR UP-Valley High School model focuses on a cohort of low-income students who began in Grade 7 at Jackman Middle School in 2005-2006 and who matriculated to Valley High School in 2007-2008. For 2009-10, services for the cohort of 11th graders expanded to include support for AVID classes, College Fairs,  College and Career Technical school visits, College Awareness classes and Leadership Skills Initiative curriculum specific to the African-American male students in the cohort.  With a continued focus on developing the college-going culture throughout the school community, GEAR UP has been able to reach the entire school, not just the students within the cohort.

Additional results:

  • Valley is the Number 1 (non charter) in Similar Schools and demographics in California.
  • Of 100 Similar Schools in California, Valley scored a perfect 10. They are the only non-charter to do so!
  • Valley had the highest API score of any non-charter school and had the 8th highest API overall.

The effects of GEAR UP at Valley could not be more clear. A recent survey of seniors at valley indicated more than 36% were planning to attend 4 year colleges, while 60% planned to attend two year schools. With 89% of students responding, the whopping 96% of seniors planning to continue their education after high school is powerful evidence that GEAR UP works.

Share in the excitement by checking out the Valley High School Graduation photo album on our Facebook page.

Report: California’s School Funding Flexibility Opportunity

The Public Policy Institute of California recently released a report looking at the impact of the sweeping changes in public education financing taking effect in 2009. These laws are set to expire this year, and PPIC has prepared an analysis and recommendations based on both the good and bad aspect of the laws impact thus far.

This report, along with previously released statewide survey data, the PPIC is providing convincing evidence in the overhaul of the statewide education system. The PPIC also suggest the time is ripe now as the 2009 laws are to be reevaluated. Results from the April 2011 report include:

  • Most Californians are very concerned that the state’s budget deficit will mean significant cuts to K–12 education.
  • Six in ten adults and likely voters favor Governor Brown’s plan of spending cuts and temporary tax increases to close the deficit and avoid cuts to schools.
  • More than half of public school parents say they have noticed reduced numbers of support staff or fewer programs at their child’s school.

Spurred by a deep recession and large budget shortfalls, the California Legislature in 2009 enacted what was arguably the largest change to California’s school finance system in decades—relaxing spending restrictions on more than 40 categorical programs through 2012–13, extended later to 2014–15. Categorical funding, which gives school districts money in addition to the general funds they already receive from the state, had been limited to specific, narrow purposes: buying textbooks or providing summer school, for example. Under the 2009 changes, districts could begin spending these funds for any educational purpose.

Because the laws were part of legislative negotiations over the state budget, not education policy, the decisions made in 2009 were far from optimal for K–12 schools. A more systematic and less political reconsideration of categorical flexibility could result in a more equitable and transparent distribution of funds, while also reserving targeted aid for students who need supplemental services. In addition, under the 2009 provisions, districts could spend categorical funds on any educational purpose. Both state policymakers and local district officials have expressed concern about the impact of completely flexible funds on the collective bargaining process; specifically, that those funds would be used inappropriately to increase teacher salaries and benefits rather than to provide additional services or materials for students.

This report offers three recommendations to improve current flexibility provisions that the legislature could consider should it pursue categorical flexibility beyond the program’s sunset date:

  • Distribute these less-restricted categorical funds more equally.
  • Apply clear criteria for flexibility and consider alternative configurations.
  • Consider some restrictions on flex item funds.

These recommendations would create a more equitable and transparent source of revenue. This would provide local school districts with increased flexibility in meeting student needs, and would be consistent with several recent major school finance reform proposals, as well as Governor Brown’s campaign plan for K–12 education.

When the law expires, the legislature will be faced with a decision: whether to return to the previous, tightly restricted categorical fund system or transition to a permanent version of the flexibility now in use.

To read the entire report, click here for the PPIC publication. This post contains excerpts from the original report.