Penn GSE AHEAD

Closing Gaps in College Access and Completion: We All Play a Role

Friday, October 30, 2015

Higher education is essential to the economic and social well-being of individuals and the societies in which we live. Yet, despite the importance of higher education, the likelihood of completing a college degree varies dramatically based on a student’s family income, race/ethnicity, and other demographic characteristics, as well as the school attended and place of residence.

As I discussed on October 29, 2015 in the Brodie Family Lecture delivered at Bowdoin College in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of its Upward Bound Program, if we are to close gaps in attainment, we must address the systemic and structural barriers that limit attainment for too many students.

We need to ensure that public policies and institutional practices work together to ensure that all students:

  • Are academically ready to enter and succeed in college-level coursework without the need for developmental education;
  • Have the financial resources that are required to pay college costs;
  • Are able to move between higher education institutions without loss of credit; and
  • Have high-quality higher education opportunities that are available and accessible regardless of where they live.

Drawing on The state of college access and completion: Improving college success for students from underrepresented groups (2013, co-edited with Anthony Jones), and The Attainment Agenda: State Policy Leadership in Higher Education (co-authored with Joni Finney), I argued that there is no silver bullet. Given the complexity of the educational attainment process, we need a comprehensive approach that recognizes the separate and interacting roles of policies and practices that are developed by the federal government, state governments, and colleges and universities. A comprehensive strategic approach is needed to meaningful progress in ensuring that all students, regardless of their demographic characteristics or place of residence, have the opportunity to enroll and succeed in higher education.