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More Indiana students of color are graduating college. But many are still being left behind

Graduating students at KIPP Newark Collegiate Academy in June 2018.
Graduating students at KIPP Newark Collegiate Academy in June 2018.
Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat

More students of color are graduating from college in Indiana, but big gaps still remain in college enrollment rates and college readiness, according to a new equity report from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

Black students, for example, are the least prepared for college among racial groups, and come in far below the state average for college readiness, the report said. Only one out of four black students in Indiana meet benchmarks of early successes in college, according to the report, which include not needing remediation, staying in college for a second year, and completing courses.

Hispanic students, though they are the fastest-growing racial group of high school graduates in the state, are the least likely to go to college. Only about half of Hispanic students enroll in college, compared to two-thirds of white students. But, the report notes, Hispanic students have been going to college at increasing rates in recent years.

The report noted a bright spot among students from low-income families who receive 21st Century Scholarships, a need-based program that covers four years of tuition at state colleges.

In recent years, 21st Century Scholars have made significant progress on college readiness measures and graduation rates, the report said, far outpacing other low-income students. That’s in part due to recent changes in requiring scholarship recipients to have higher high school grade-point averages and take full-time college course loads.

The commission pointed to the scholarship as a key part of solutions aimed at helping all students succeed in college. Scholarship recipients are held to certain academic standards, but the commission said the program’s supports to prepare students for choosing and paying for college could also be critical.

Indianapolis has recently placed a new focus on signing up students for 21st Century Scholars, since across the state, more than half of students who qualify for the award don’t register for it.

The Commission for Higher Education wants to close all college achievement gaps by 2025. Students of color and students from low-income families are making gains on college-going rates, college readiness, and graduation rates, but 21st Century Scholars are the only group on pace to fully close the gaps.

“We’re making considerable progress toward closing Indiana’s college achievement gap, and while we celebrate this milestone, it is now more important than ever to continue the positive momentum,” Indiana Commissioner of Higher Education Teresa Lubbers said in a statement. “By every measure, 21st Century Scholars are outpacing their low-income and minority peers. I believe the program is our key to ultimately closing the achievement gap.”

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