Black and Latinx Barriers to Higher Education: When This population is Shut Out, We All Lose

Written by Bryan McCormick, First Literacy Program Director

black-and-latinx-barriers-to-higher-education-first-literacy-blogWhat is a college education worth? Beyond the personal victory of earning an associates or bachelor’s degree, there are major economic and societal benefits to supporting our Black and Latinx populations in the attainment of a college degree.

Since students of different social, economic, and racial backgrounds have different barriers to overcome as they navigate secondary and post-secondary education, thinking about the societal value of a college education is critical as we ponder what supports we must provide to adult learners as they navigate this resource dependent environment.

Let’s dive into the economic outcomes of leveling the playing field for our adult learners, which is one of First Literacy’s guiding principles. Let’s explore three ideas that highlight the value of higher educational and training for adult learners on the margins.

1) Social mobility

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Education, annual earnings are strongly correlated with educational attainment, race, and ethnicity. This finding should surprise exactly zero of us who work in the Adult Basic Education (ABE) field, but it may startle some outside of the education industry. The report states that Hispanics who attained a bachelor’s degree or higher earn an average of $30,000 more per year than their less educated counterparts.

A Latinx adult with a bachelor’s degree will generate, at a minimum, $7,500 more in federal, state, and local taxes per year than their counterpart without a bachelor’s degree. Over the course of a 40-year career a conservative estimate tells us these students will earn $1.2 million more than their less educated counterparts and generate about $300,000 more in tax revenue over their careers.

2) Disparities in higher education enrollment lead to cultural disparities

The U.S. Department of Education notes that from 2013 to 2014, nearly two out of three college degrees in the U.S. were awarded to white students, even though white students compromised only 55% of undergraduates. The difference between 66% and 55% may not look alarming at first, but this means 11% of non-white students are not completing their educational goals.

An article from the Pioneer Institute details that in the state of Massachusetts, 67,685 students enrolled in community college in 2020. So, based on the data from the U.S. Department of Education, if we assume that 11% of non-white students do not complete their degree, then that would mean 7,445 non-white students in the state of Massachusetts dropped out of college in 2020. Not only is this discouraging information for students and educators, but this also means that federal, state, and local governments are missing out on an estimated $56 million dollars per year in tax collections based solely on the 11% of Massachusetts Black and Latinx students who leave college before completion.

3) Disparities are cross generational

The U.S. Department of Education also highlights the disparities across generations. Students whose parents completed college are about twice as likely to attain a bachelor’s degree. Data shows that Black and Latinx students who enroll in a bachelor’s program and have at least one parent with a bachelor’s degree will graduate with a degree of their own at a rate of 33% while their peers who have no family members with a bachelor’s degree will obtain their bachelor’s at a rate of 14%. This 19% difference equates to nearly 20 out of 100 Black and Latinx students.

Overcoming Barriers

At First Literacy we believe that every person deserves an opportunity to reach their full potential. Social justice issues are notoriously difficult to change based on the ideas of fairness and human rights, but we must do our part to make higher education possible for all. Not only do adult learners benefit from higher education, but the economy benefits.

In 2012 the National Science Foundation reported that community colleges across the United States enrolled 2.5 million Black and Latinx students. If a Black or Latinx employee with a bachelor’s degree makes on average $30,000 more than their counterpart without a degree then the U.S. is missing out on more than $8 trillion of GDP and over $2 trillion per year in tax revenue. Removing barriers for our Black and Latinx students is critical in achieving a fair, equitable country, and world. It also makes great economic sense and will raise up everyone in our country.

At First Literacy, we don’t have $2 trillion but we work extremely hard to raise funds to help address systemic barriers to higher education. Each year, First Literacy awards $1,500 scholarships to recent graduates of Massachusetts Adult Basic Education or English language programs who are continuing on to vocational training or higher education. Since our Scholarship Program was initiated in 1990, First Literacy has awarded over 500 scholarships. The adult learners who are awarded scholarships come from a wide variety of backgrounds and often face numerous hurdles, but they are united in their desire to improve their lives through the power of education.

In the past three years we increased our individual scholarships by 50% and committed to work with scholars for up to four years, instead of two years. We are proud to support these adult learners in their journey.

How would you use $2 trillion per year to help remove systemic barriers to higher education for Black and Latinx students?

Help us eliminate barriers to higher education by donating to support the First Literacy scholarship program.

May 5, 2022

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