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Continental Divide: Report highlights Colorado’s need to narrow education gap
Photo courtesy: Georgetown University

By Joshua Pilkington

As the workforce in Colorado continues to grow, so too does the need for high-skilled labor. That high-skilled labor, however, has more frequently been coming from outside of Colorado due, in part, to the state’s large education gaps.

According to the report “Rocky Mountain Divide: Lifting Latinos and Closing Equity Gaps in Colorado” from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Colorado has the fifth lowest high school graduation rate in the nation at 77 percent. That is below the national average of 83 percent.

With more businesses rolling into the Denver Metro area and beyond, the need for labor has intensified, a fact that is not lost among the state’s education leaders. In 2012, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education set an overall postsecondary attainment goal of 66 percent by 2025. This means that by 2025, 66 percent of state residents will have a postsecondary credential. The commission renewed that goal in 2017. Many states have similar attainment goals, but Colorado has gone a step further by saying that by 2025, that 66 percent goal will not be attained only by an overall student population, but by students within each significant racial and ethnic grouping.

“Colorado is an example to the nation because of its unabashed focus on achieving educational and economic equity for all racial and ethnic groups in the state,” said Tanya I. Garcia, associate director of postsecondary policy research and co-author of the report in a release. “I hope this analysis helps state leaders revisit their specific credential attainment goals.”

Colorado is one of nine states with more than one million Latinos and is one of the most-educated states in the country. Yet, Latinos - by and large - are not sharing in that success. According to the report only 19 percent of Latinos enrolled in a Colorado public college earned a bachelor’s degree compared to 39 percent of white students.

On-time high school graduation rate is another area where Colorado ranks near the bottom. The state’s on-time high school graduation rates for Latinos a significantly below the national average as well. Only 68 percent of Colorado’s Latinos graduate from high school within four years compared to 78 percent nationally. That rate is mere percentage points ahead of Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York and Oregon.

“Colorado has a huge opportunity to close the postsecondary attainment gap between Whites and Latinos, which is the highest among states with large Latino populations,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center and lead author of the report in a release. “As the fastest growing racial and ethnic group in the state, Colorado would do well to ensure that Latinos have access to the right college and career guidance.”

Proof that accessibility to the right college and career guidance work can be seen through the relatively small completion gap (characterized by completing college in five years) between White and Latino students with similar test scores, enrolled in similar colleges. While the overall postsecondary completion gap White and Latino students is almost 20 percentage points, that gap narrows to 7 percentage points for White and Latino students enrolled in similar colleges with similar test scores.

The report also found that Latino students are less likely to enroll in public selective colleges than White students despite finishing in the top quartile of ACT scores. Only 53 percent of Latinos with high ACT scores enrolled in Colorado’s public selective colleges versus 65 percent of White students in the same category.

The authors highlight that fact because about 70 percent of Latinos with high ACT scores who enroll in a public selective college complete within five years compared to 40 percent who enrolled in a public open-access college.

“Without a doubt, more Latinos need to graduate from high school in order to have a fighting chance of earning the middle class incomes that Whites in Colorado are more likely to enjoy,” said Megan L. Fasules, research economist at the Georgetown Center and co-author of the report in a release. “That’s one area in Colorado’s college to career pipeline that needs significant attention.”





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