Report exposes persistent income, race gaps in college graduation, even with strong K-12 education

Brown University

ROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Children of all economic and racial backgrounds who attend Massachusetts public schools are now more likely than ever to graduate from high school and attend college. But earning a college degree remains an elusive prospect for many low-income students and students of color in the state.

That’s according to a new report released on Thursday, June 18, by scholars at Brown and Harvard universities. The study — “Lifting All Boats? Accomplishments and Challenges from 20 Years of Education Reform in Massachusetts” — was led by John Papay, an associate professor of education at Brown, as part of a research-practice partnership between Brown’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform and the Massachusetts Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education and Higher Education.

To examine how the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act has affected outcomes for children in the state, Papay and his colleagues analyzed two decades of state testing data, college admission and graduation records, and labor market earnings. They found that the last two decades have seen college enrollment rates climb across all demographics, including for children of color and children who come from low-income households.

That’s the good news, Papay said. The bad news is that gaps by income, race and ethnicity in the four-year college graduation rate have widened over that span, reflecting a nationwide trend. While Massachusetts high school graduates who enter college are now more economically and racially diverse than ever, Papay explained, white and wealthy students are still far more likely to graduate and earn a bachelor’s degree than their non-white, low-income peers — setting them up for better career prospects and higher incomes down the line.


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