With the national conversation around investment in infrastructure and digital divide, Colorado is at a juncture when we must look at how we are truly investing in our state, and our people, and how we support our Latino community, which has been hit hardest through the pandemic and especially when it comes to higher education.
As the fifth-most educated state in the U.S., Colorado's Educational Attainment rank is second, with the highest percentage of associate degree holders or college-experienced adults and the second-highest percentage of bachelor's degree holders. Of Colorado adults, 39.4% have at least a bachelor’s degree, and 30.2% have an associate degree or some college experience. The numbers tell a different story for the Latino community.
In comparison to other ethnic groups, only about 11% of Latinos achieve a bachelor’s degree, according to the 2020 Equity Report from the Colorado Department of Higher Education. The report noted further that gaps greater than 30% exist by race/ethnicity and 14% to 23% by socioeconomic status.
We don’t need a national outline to point out the expansive educational equity gap as deep as the Royal Gorge is in our own backyard. The Colorado Latino community has the lowest educational attainment and the lowest college enrollment rate of any ethnic group in the state, according to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. The 35% degree attainment gap is the largest equity gap in the country.
As the Latino population expands, we cannot afford to allow the divide to increase. With more than 1.1 million Latinos in Colorado, the Latino population will increase from 21% of the population to 33% over the next 20 years. By the end of this decade, 1 in 4 Coloradans will be Latino with nearly 80% of Latinos in Colorado native born, and 4% of the state population comprised of Latino immigrants, according to Pew Research.
The disproportional impact of the pandemic on Latino communities has not only occurred with job and wage losses, but it has also caused a disruption of plans for Latino students to pursue college degrees. We are facing a time when the gap is simply getting bigger.
While there is not one solution that will help bridge the divide in higher ed, we know that access and affordability play significant roles. Colorado Rises, a program through the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, has set a strategic goal to increase the college attainment rate to 66% by 2025 for all ethnic groups to improve all students’ success rates in colleges and universities across Colorado.
They advocate for three things:
- Higher education is a public good that strongly benefits the community
- Higher education should be accessible to all, not just those with adequate personal financial means
- Institutions of higher education have a responsibility to demonstrate their stewardship of public resources.
Our work at WGU aligns with those goals. WGU is addressing the equity gap by removing barriers and making college accessible and affordable to everyone, including underserved communities. WGU’s Latino enrollment rate is 12% in Colorado, which tracks with Colorado’s brick and mortar colleges, with an 8% graduation rate. We are continually seeking ways to increase that percentage to serve more students, especially in BIPOC communities.
WGU’s We Won’t Rest Initiative aims to help remove barriers that might otherwise keep people—especially those from historically underserved populations—from accessing higher education, such as job loss, changes in childcare and schooling, health concerns, and overall uncertainty from the pandemic. Other financial assistance such as WGU’s Online Access Scholarship provides access to resources to close this gap. The scholarship covers the cost of installing and accessing the internet as well as providing students with a refurbished laptop and webcam. WGU also provides students with financial aid assistance, program mentors, orientation and monitoring and tracking of academic progress.
As we roll out infrastructure to bridge the divide, let’s simultaneously remove obstacles of cost and make higher education achievable for everyone. It's time to invest in making higher education accessible to all, not just the few. The investment in Colorado is worth it.
For more information on support and scholarships to close the gap, visit www.wgu.edu.