KY Policy Blog

Kentucky Falls Short in Closing Higher Education Gaps

By Sean Litteral
October 31, 2012

Kentucky still has a long way to go to meet the ambitious educational attainment goals set by the Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997. In a recent report by the Council on Postsecondary Education, which details the state’s progress toward meeting these goals in 2010-2011, Kentucky fell short in several indicators of the gaps between disadvantaged and other students.

The report examines the progress that has been made toward the state’s education goals for 2020 in 31 performance targets in four priority areas: college readiness; student success; research, economic and community development; and efficiency and innovation.1 Despite progress in some areas, the state is losing ground on several critical student success targets, including: closing the bachelor’s degree graduation rate gaps for lower-income students, closing the associate’s degree graduation rate gaps for lower-income students and racial/ethnic minorities, and decreasing financial barriers to college access and completion.

The graduation gap between low-income and middle-to-upper-income students for associate’s and bachelor’s degrees widened considerably from 2008-09 to 2010-11. The gap in bachelor’s degree attainment rates increased from 10.5 percentage points to 18.4 points.2 For associate’s degrees the gap grew from 3.1 percentage points to 5.8 points.3

Likewise, it is unlikely that the state will make enough progress in closing the achievement gap for underrepresented minority students in the areas of bachelor’s and associate’s degree graduation rates to meet the state’s 2014 intermediary target. While the gap between the bachelor’s degree graduation rates of underrepresented minority students and White and Asian students narrowed slightly between 2008-2009 and 2010-11, the racial achievement gap actually widened slightly for associate’s degree attainment.4

Kentucky is also not making progress in reducing financial barriers to college access and completion, which contribute to these postsecondary degree attainment trends. As noted in the report, state appropriations for public higher education fell for the fourth straight year in 2010-2011.5 These funding cuts result in higher tuition for students, making college less affordable—particularly for those with low incomes. The cuts also affect the state’s already underfunded need-based financial aid programs. Thus, the number of students who qualified for but did not receive a need-based state grant increased by 32 percent from 2010 to 2011, leaving 90,424 qualified students without such assistance.6

Many of the state’s educational shortcomings highlighted in the report may be linked to a need for additional revenue and investment in higher education. As discussed in a prior KCEP report, if postsecondary education is to become more attainable for Kentuckians resources are needed to prevent unreasonable tuition increases and to increase financial aid support for low-income students.

  1. The report focuses on progress toward 2014 intermediary targets.
  2. The 2014 target is a 7 percentage point difference.
  3. The goal is a 2.1 percent difference.
  4. The 2014 target for associate’s graduation rates is a 3.9 percentage point gap. In 2010-11, the gap was 6.8 percentage points. For bachelor’s degree graduation rates, the 2014 target is an 11 percentage point difference, and the 2010-11 gap was 13.7 percentage points.
  5. The 2012-2014 budget further cut higher education by an additional 6.4 percent.
  6.  Adjusted for inflation, institutional tuition revenues have grown 66 percent since 2004, compared to 15 percent for state financial aid spending.

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