African-Americans Can Reach Higher

Oklahoma Reach Higher student graduating from Langston University.

It’s no secret that American higher education has a dropout problem. About one in three students who enroll in college never earn a degree. Many lower-income and middle-class students excel in high school only to falter in college and then struggle to get good jobs. Students who complete their degrees typically go on to earn more and live healthier and happier lives, research shows.

Students of color have definitely made strides and leaps in the area of higher education, but there remains a gap and room for improvement. All students of color now make up more than 45 percent of the undergraduate population, compared with less than 30 percent two decades ago. Nearly one-third of graduate students are now people of color. African-American students, too, represent a larger share of the undergraduate and graduate student population than 20 years ago, and a larger share of the students who earn degrees. But black students who began college in the fall 2011 had higher dropout rates and lower six-year completion rates — 46 percent at public institutions, 57 percent at private institutions — than any other racial group, according to “The College Dropout Crisis” by David Leonhardt and Sahil Chinoy The New York Times May 2019.

The gender gap for black students is wider than it is for any other group, as nearly two-thirds of African-American undergraduates, and more than two-thirds African-American graduate students, are women.

African-American male students pursuing bachelor’s degrees were the most likely among any demographic group to drop out after their freshman year according the authors.

The reasons for these disparities are widely known in higher education: African-American students tend to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, have families with little or no college experience, and graduate from underperforming high schools that didn’t prepare them well for higher education.

Did you know that Oklahoma is comprised of over 300,000 adults who left college with no degree? The Reach Higher: DirectComplete program can help. Focusing on adult students, Reach Higher: DirectComplete is designed for adults who have earned some college credit and desire to complete a degree linked to a critical occupation as designated by Oklahoma Works’ Oklahoma’s 100 Critical Occupations list.

Partnerships with businesses, tribes, workforce development agencies, nonprofit organizations and foundations, federal and state agencies and other groups will provide scholarships, grants and other support to adult students who pursue degree programs within the program.

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