CCWeek Data Underscore Achievement Gaps
Each year, Community College Week’s Top 100 report is one of our most popular issues. Our listings are purely quantitative, but colleges like to see where they rank. The lists can be presented to trustees and other stakeholders as numerical proof that colleges are doing their work. At a time when community colleges frequently are lambasted for poor graduation rates, the numbers contained in CCWeek’s Top 100 issue are the stuff of positive press releases.
But a deeper dive into the Top 100 data also reveals a larger picture in addition to a snapshot of how many students don caps and gowns each spring. They can also show which academic disciplines are the most popular, which the least and whether colleges are contributing to the national goal of producing more graduates.
This year, the data also underscore a trend that has been apparent, and growing, for decades: the gap between men and women when it comes to earning college degrees. At the end of the 2013-14 academic year, women earned 612,492 associate degrees — or 61 percent of all degree conferrals — compared to 390,775 for men, or 39 percent, according to CCWeek’s analysis of IPEDS data.
The gap can be found among colleges of all types. The University of Phoenix, the online behemoth, granted 19,558 associate degrees in 2013-14, more than any other college; 13,888 of those degrees went to women (about 71 percent) compared to 5,670 for men (about 29 percent.)
Miami Dade College awarded 9,941 degrees, more than any other public community college. Of that number, 5,892 degrees (59 percent) went to women and 4,049 (41 percent) to men. Ivy Tech Community College, Indiana’s statewide twoyear college system, awarded 9,453 degrees; 5,994 went to women (63 percent) and 3,459 (37 percent) to men. The trend has been building for decades. Between 1991 and 2014, women earned more associate degrees than men every single year.
The education gender gap crosses international boundaries. Earlier this year, a report issued by the Organization of Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) — made up of 34 countries devoted to promoting democracy and market economies — said achievement gaps between boys and girls show up long before college students set foot on campus.
“Over the past century, OECD countries have made significant progress in narrowing or closing long-standing gender gaps in many areas of education and employment, including educational attainment, pay and labor market participation.”
“But new gender gaps are opening. Young men are significantly more likely than young women to have low levels of skills and poor academic achievement, and are more likely to leave school early, often with no qualifications.”
The report found 15-year-old boys are more likely than girls of the same age to be low achievers. In 2012, 14 percent of boys and 9 percent of girls did not attain baseline levels of proficiency in any of three core subjects — reading, mathematics and science. Six out of ten students who did not attain the baseline level of proficiency in any of those subjects were boys.
The gaps have important economic implications, the OECD report says.
“Given the findings of the 2012 Survey of Adult Skills — that poor proficiency in numeracy and literacy severely limits access to better paying and more rewarding occupations and has a negative impact on health and on social and political participation — the underachievement of young men has severe consequences not only for their own futures but for societies as a whole.”
The fact that American women are more likely than men to go to college and perform better academically is well-established. A 2013 book — The Rise of Women: The Growing in Education and What It Means for American Schools — documents a dramatic educational gender gap. In 1970, the book reports, 58 percent of U.S. college students were men. By 2010, 57 percent of U.S. college students were women. Women now earn more associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and PhDs than do men.
The gaps are apparent at community colleges, and nowhere are they wider than between men of color — Latinos and blacks — and their academic peers from other demographic groups.
According to Aspirations to Achievement: Men of Color in Community Colleges, a 2014 report by the Center for Community College Student Engagement, only 5 percent of black men and 5 percent of Latino men earn an associate degree within three years of enrollment compared to 34 percent of white men. “As of 2008, only 42 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in the United States had attained an associate degree or higher. Only 30 percent of African Americans and 20 percent of Latinos ages 25 to 34 had attained an associate degree or higher in the United States, compared to 49 percent for White Americans and 71 percent for Asian Americans,” the report states.
“Consistently and unmistakably, data show a persistent gap separating Latinos and Black males from other student groups on measures of academic progress and college completion. These gaps exist across higher education. They are undeniable and unacceptable.”
The report says there are many reasons for the gaps, including college readiness. Black and Latino students are less likely to meet college-readiness benchmarks when they enroll in college.
“Once they enroll, men of color are placed in developmental education at disproportionately high rates. While this placement typically is considered the result of lower rates of college readiness, it also may reflect, at least in part, shortcomings with the placement practices themselves,” the report says.
Community colleges may be the natural place where the work to close the gaps should be spearheaded. Community colleges enroll 49 percent of all Black undergraduates and 56 percent of all Hispanic undergraduates.
“There are two reasons that community colleges can — and should — take the lead in this work. First, community colleges open their doors to all students, and they are the higher education institutions most likely to serve men of color. Second, open access is just the first step toward attaining the equity ingrained in the mission of community colleges. The more significant work is ensuring that every student has the support he or she needs to succeed. If community colleges can make this experience the norm for every student, the gaps will close.”
Some community colleges are taking aggressive steps to close the achievement gaps:
• Lansing Community College in Michigan has seen a significant increase in the number of Latino students enrolling, graduating, and transferring to fouryear colleges since the introduction of LUCERO — Latinos Unidos Con Energia Respeto y Orgullo — in 2003. The program assists students in the development of academic, leadership, and professional skills while exploring diversity and culture. From fall 2011 to fall 2012, the retention rate for male LUCERO participants was 67 percent, compared to 48 percent of Latinos not in LUCERO and 47 percent for all White males.
• Valencia College in Florida has long been a national leader in efforts to improve student learning, progress and completion. Its tools include early advising and orientation and technological tools allowing students to create a personalized education plan. The efforts are paying dividends. For the fall 2002 entering cohort of first-time, degree-seeking, college-ready students, four-year graduation rates were 22 percent for Black students, 23 percent for Latino students, and 39 percent for White students. The fall 2008 cohort showed significant improvement: a 48 percent fouryear graduation rates for Black students, 51 percent for Latino students, 44 percent for White students.
• In 2003, the North Carolina Community College System piloted the Minority Male Mentoring Program (3M). The program aims to increase minority male students’ persistence, graduation, and transfer rates by helping them navigate the educational system and develop leadership, critical-thinking, goal-setting, time management, and study skills. Today, 46 of the state’s 58 community colleges are operating 3M programs. The fall 2011 to spring 2012 retention rate for 3M participants was 78 percent compared to 68 percent for men of color not in the program and 71 percent of non-minority/White males.
Much work remains to scale up such programs so large swaths of students benefit, but colleges should not shy away from doing it.
“Grappling with these disparities is a task for virtually every community college,” said former CCCSE Executive Director Kay M. McClenney when the report was released. “Campus conversations must address three factors:
substantially different levels of college readiness, the demonstrated effects of stereotype threat on performance in higher education, and continuing impacts of structural racism evident in systems throughout American society.”