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Making Degree Attainment E-Zier for Multistate Metro Students of Color

SOURCE: AP/Charlie Riedel

Freshman Jafet Carrasco discusses an algebra problem with his teacher Jennifer Morelock at Alta Vista Charter School in Kansas City, MO. Students who live in metro areas straddling multiple state borders face particular difficulties finishing their degrees.

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There’s a well-established connection between postsecondary education and economic prosperity, which is why it’s imperative that a higher percentage of Americans attain college degrees. Those living in rapidly growing communities of color tend to earn fewer degrees than their white counterparts: Only 20.6 percent of African Americans and 14 percent of Hispanics in the United States held a bachelor’s degree or higher in March 2009 compared to 31.9 percent of whites. Many from these communities live in metropolitan areas, and those who live in areas straddling multiple state borders face unique challenges when it comes to completing their degrees.

Easy Come, EZ-Go,” a new Center for American Progress report by Brian A. Sponsler, Gregory S. Kienzl, and Alexis J. Wesaw, notes that 63 percent of all jobs in the next 10 years will require at least some postsecondary education. This is yet another reason—besides promoting economic prosperity—why we need to find a way to make higher education more accessible to everyone, especially communities of color.

The report focuses on multistate metropolitan areas, or MSAs. Residents in these areas travel freely between cities and states for work and other commercial activities like shopping and sporting events. Attending schools across these state borders, however, is not as fluid in terms of tuition payments and credit transfers.

States traditionally have jurisdiction over postsecondary education, but those that contain metropolitan areas spanning multiple state borders face unique problems. These problems are rooted in state-based financial aid, resident-based tuition, and credit transfer policies that make it unnecessarily difficult for students in these areas to attain degrees. A student who lives closer to an out-of-state university than an in-state university, for example, is charged steep out-of-state fees even though they live closer to the university than other in-state students.

The authors present a viable solution: Educational Zone Governance Organizations, or EZ-GO’s, which would be managed by an EZ-GO commission. The EZ-GO commission, authorized by Congress and housed in the Department of Education, would be responsible for three main tasks. They would ratify boundaries of multistate EZ-GO areas and advise federal policymakers on actions to incentivize local actors such as providing financial support for capital improvements that would increase enrollment at public institutions in EZ-GO areas. The commission would also revisit existing federal policies with the aim of creating more coordination among public, private, and for-profit institutions in EZ-GO areas to increase educational attainment in the entire region.

The majority of Americans reside in metropolitan areas and many of these areas cross state borders. Eighty-four percent of the U.S. population lived in metropolitan areas in 2008, according to the Office of Management and Budget. That same year, 74 percent of the nation’s African Americans, 80 percent of its Hispanics, and 88 percent of its Asians resided in the largest 100 metropolitan areas. Ninety percent of the top 20 MSAs have African-American and Hispanic resident rates near or greater than 25 percent. But the percentages of African Americans and Latinos ages 25 and older that hold postsecondary degrees are significantly lower than the percentage rates of whites in the same areas. On average the rates are about 14 percentage points lower for African American and 12 percentage points lower for Latinos. These populations in particular could benefit from EZ-GO’s.

President Barack Obama has challenged the nation to become the world’s most educated country by 2020. To achieve this goal we must abandon outdated educational policies that do not serve students of color and develop new policies inclusive of these communities. The EZ-GO proposal is an innovative and essential one that will certainly benefit students of color attempting to earn degrees of higher education.

We should aim high: Reaching a 60 percent degree attainment goal for each ethnic group must be a part of the nation’s overarching goal if we are to meet President Obama’s challenge.

Dyci Manns is an Intern with the Ethnic Media team at American Progress.

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