Being Hands-On with College Success Data

April 1st, 2015

Graduation Gaps Graphic-ETWe all know that there are persistent gaps in the college completion rates of different racial and ethnic groups in Arizona (44% of white adults have a college degree as compared to just 17% of Hispanic adults). And we know that Arizona’s demographics are shifting — by the year 2030, our state’s racial and ethnic minorities will comprise a majority of the population.

Taken together, these facts emphasize for us the importance of creating college opportunity for all Arizonans. Yet it can be difficult to grasp the destructive effects that result from the combination of persistent achievement gaps and rapid demographic change. So we sought to create a tool that would help every Arizonan understand this reality and join with us in charting a course for higher education in our state.

The result is the Graduation Gaps calculator on our website. Instead of regurgitating statistics, we used publicly available data to power an interactive tool that allows you to freely explore the interaction between demographics and college completion and experiment with future scenarios. Set your own 2030 degree attainment targets for each demographic group, and watch how the education of the overall population responds over time. If only enabling more individuals to succeed in college was this easy!

Some things we noticed:

  • Before making any adjustments, look at the slope of the line — it’s creeping slowly downward. This effect is because as groups with lower college completion make up a larger portion of the population, the overall rate is diminished absent increases in completion rates.
  • Try setting the white target to 100%, keeping all other targets at their current levels. Note that even if every single white adult in Arizona had a college degree, the overall rate would just barely crack 60% by 2030. What’s more, look at how the gains in the line slow over time, the result of white adults comprising a smaller portion of the population.
  • Conversely, we can reset the targets and now boost the Hispanic goal to 100%. Here the effect is reversed — the line now grows by increasing margins each year as the Hispanic population swells. And yet even in this scenario, with every single Hispanic adult possessing a college degree, the peak rate for the overall population is only 64%. No one group can make up the difference between where Arizona is today and where we want to be tomorrow.

What else can you discover in the data? What goal would you set for 2030? Let us know what you discover.

Where our information came from:

 The population projections used were provided by the Arizona Office of Employment and Population Statistics, using the 2012 Medium Series estimates. Estimated current degree attainment by population group was calculated by the Lumina Foundation in 2014, using data from the US Census Bureau’s 2009-11 American Community Survey PUMS file. The model assumes a linear progression between current rates and the user-supplied 2030 target rates for the target line, while solely using the current rates for the baseline. Each year’s rate is calculated by summing the products of each group’s share of the projected population and the corresponding degree attainment rate. The Other group is omitted from the demographics used for these calculations, with its share of the population being proportionately distributed among the remaining groups.

 

Rich Nickel is President and CEO of College Success Arizona

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