In today’s global economy, a college degree is the key to economic and social mobility. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, individuals with some college but no degree earn 18% more than their peers with just a high school degree. Those with an associate’s degree earn 29% more, and those with a bachelor’s degree earn 62% more. In addition, college graduates are reported to experience lower rates of unemployment, better health and life expectancy, and improved quality of life. Despite widespread agreement about the transformative effect of higher education, each year more and more young people fail to complete college. Only half of all high school students enroll in college and only 58% of students who start bachelor’s degrees at four-year colleges end up with a degree six years later. For underserved students, the numbers are even more startling.
– By age 24, only 9% of students in the bottom income quartile have earned a bachelor’s degree as compared to 75% of students in the top income quartile.
– African American students earn bachelor’s degrees at one-half and Latino students at one-third the rate of White students.
– Students from homes where neither parent has earned a bachelor’s degree are twice as likely as those with a college-educated parent to leave before their second year.
Because of the growing need for a postsecondary degree in almost every occupation in today’s job market, it is not an option to ignore these college graduation gaps. Moreover, the disparities between those who have traditionally earned degrees and those who have not will become more problematic given the country’s demographic trends. In order to ensure that the next generation is aptly prepared to navigate the competitive global economic environment, the U.S. must broaden our focus from getting students “into college” to getting students “through college.” Beyond 12 works to significantly increase college graduation rates for underserved students. When our vision is realized, the percentage of low-income high school graduates earning a bachelor’s degree within 6 years of their high school graduation will match that of their affluent peers.