Education disparity

In 2010, Colorado topped a list for which there is no glory: It had the largest gaps in college graduation rates in the United States between white and black adults. That meant 42.5 percent of whites ages 25 or older had college degrees while just 20 percent of their black counterparts shared the same level of education. Since then, the gap has closed, as more black adults have earned college degrees: The difference now is 43 percent and 24 percent, respectively. That is promising progress that moves Colorado behind Connecticut and Massachusetts in the disparity ranking. It is not, however, unmitigated good news.

The best and most obvious component of the U.S. Census Bureau data revealing the narrowing education gap is that more black adults are earning college degrees. This has positive ramifications that extend to those degree-earners, their families and the state’s economy at large. More opportunity for higher achievement and diverse career options develop from holding a college degree, and it is encouraging that more black adults are finding those opportunities in Colorado.

What is less encouraging is that the gap between Latino and white Colorado adults holding college degrees did not change, and still is the highest in the nation, at 12.7 percent and 43 percent, respectively, with Latino degree rates increasing just 0.7 percent since 2010. Those numbers show a widening gap between black and Latino degree-earners as well as demonstrate lackluster growth – 0.8 percent – in the number of whites earning college degrees. All of this suggests there still is significant room for improvement, in closing the alarming racial gaps and in increasing educational achievement across the board.

More encouraging were the Census Bureau’s high school graduation numbers. Latino and black numbers improved significantly to narrow the distance between whites who hold high school diplomas. In 2010, there was a nine-point gap between blacks and whites; that narrowed to seven in 2012. The 30-point distance between Latinos and whites narrowed to 28 percent. Those numbers could contain the most potential for long-term change. If more students across the state are earning high school diplomas, more are likely to go on to college. Large increases in high school graduation among minorities is a resoundingly encouraging sign.

It is evolving and incremental progress, though. While these education numbers are promising, the gaps that are closing remain significant. While 96 percent of white adults have high school diplomas, for black adults, that figure is 89 percent; for Latinos, it is 68 percent. As that gap closes, perhaps the longer-term ramifications of education will be more evenly distributed across nonwhite populations. Those income-related numbers show the disparity between white median income and that of black and Latino Coloradans remains stark, with the latter two earning 58 percent and 53 percent of their white counterparts, respectively. More startling was the fact that black incomes dropped as a percentage of that earned by whites – from 64 percent in 2010.

As Colorado strives to improve its education to better integrate K-12 curriculum with higher education standards to best prepare students for long-term academic and career success, these numbers ought to narrow more. But the stark racial divide suggests that the state should invest in reducing the marked difference between what its various residents learn and earn.

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