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Poverty Drives College Attainment Gaps: Education Department Report

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New information from the federal government is the latest to show tremendous gaps in college attainment between socioeconomic and ethnic groups.

A new study from the National Center for Education Statistics, the research arm of the U.S. Education Department, analyzed gaps in access and persistence across gender and racial lines as mandated by Congress. The report, released Tuesday, shows that postsecondary attendance is lower among youth from lower socioeconomic backgrounds as well as those from Black and Hispanic backgrounds compared to Whites and Asians. The study also showed that more females were enrolled in undergraduate or graduate study than males.

"For instance, among first-time students seeking bachelor's degrees who started full time at a 4-year college in 2004, a higher percentage of females than males completed bachelor's degrees within 6 years (61 vs. 56 percent) -- a pattern that held across all racial/ethnic groups."

According to the study, much of the divide in educational limitations arises from poverty which "poses a serious challenge to a child's ability to succeed in school and its prevalence is markedly higher among certain racial/ethnic groups than in others."

Parental education levels also tend to influence how well students perform in school. Students whose parents are highly educated tend to have higher success rates. Thus children from ethnicities that haven't traditionally had a chance at greater education have a greater hurdle at being successful in secondary and post-secondary education.

President Obama's 2020 College Completion Goals aim for the U.S. to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. If the United States is to meet that goal, more Latino students will need to graduate at a much higher rate.

Still, even though Latino students are enrolling at a higher rate in universities, completion is an entirely different ballgame.

"Over 40 percent of Latinos who are enrolled in college are the first in their family to go to college. And so you already have issues not just of enrollment but persistence to completion that require academic support," Deborah Santiago, at Excelencia in Education, told The Huffington Post in August.

Those students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are also challenged when it comes to graduating from a college or university, according to Santiago.

"Other factors to think about at looking at graduation rates...one is the academic preparation of Latinos. We tend to be in school districts that have less resources, less qualified teachers, and you have less academically prepared students through no fault of their own but because of where they got an education."

According to a report titled "Building a Grad Nation," the president's goal might be too challenging to meet.

"The pace is too slow to meet the national goal of a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020. We must calibrate our educational system to the greater demands of the 21st century through a Civic Marshall Plan to make more accelerated progress in boosting student achievement, high school graduation rates, and college- and career-readiness for our nation to meet national goals and fulfill the promise of the next generation.”

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