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Differences seen in college value

Report: Some groups shorted by Jaime Adame | May 12, 2021 at 3:29 a.m.

A commission of education leaders that includes a new Arkansas State University graduate is calling for new steps to address student differences and pay disparities after attending college.

The Postsecondary Value Commission in a report publicly released today stated that students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups aren't getting the same "returns on their investments" from attending college as compared with other student groups.

The commission calls for boosting access to educational opportunities while also "improving data to expose and address inequitable postsecondary value, because current information gaps ignore critical outcome disparities for students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and women."

Luis Talavera, 22, from Leachville in northeast Arkansas, was one of two student members on the 30-person commission that formed in 2019. The group of leaders, accompanied by a research task force, were put together with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and managed by the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

Piper Hendricks, a spokeswoman for the institute, said ASU Chancellor Kelly Damphousse put forth Talavera's name and he was selected for the group with assistance from the commission's co-chairperson, Millie Garcia, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

ASU is a member of the association, and Chuck Welch, president of the ASU System, serves as chairman of the association's board of directors.

Talavera spoke to reporters on a Zoom call Tuesday about his experience in small-town Arkansas, where he said attending college is "the exception and not the rule."

Talavera said students need more encouragement and information to pursue educational goals.

"I believe that this community in this area specifically places a lot of emphasis, especially for minorities and the Latino community, in pursuing jobs that are very laborious and, in terms of working in the fields, that will just provide the quickest income," said Talavera.

Talavera said that when he was growing up, "no one was really pushing for these migrant communities and these migrant children."

While students could access tutoring and other instructional help, "we never truly had anyone sit down with us and explain what college even was," said Talavera. He described himself as a "first-generation American" and said his family came to the U.S. from Mexico.

A community emphasis on educational access and equity can make a big difference, he said, putting students "in the mindset of chasing after an education, as opposed to placing them in a position where they might just settle for the minimum salary."

The commission studied data on student earnings provided by the University of Texas System, Hendricks said.

The group's report concludes that for computers, statistics, and mathematics graduates, "racial/ethnic and gender gaps exist immediately upon graduation and grow over time." Among these graduates, the report found a smaller portion of Black and Hispanic students, as well as women, reaching certain economic thresholds compared with white male counterparts, "even if they complete the same major."

It's unclear from the report how many graduates were studied. Hendricks, with the Institute for Higher Education Policy, in an email said the "raw numbers belong to [the University of Texas System] and are not publicly available."

The report laid out new economic thresholds linked to the true cost of attending college and other measures, introducing these thresholds as ways to better understand exactly how attending college ends up paying off -- or not -- for students.

"The data clearly show that education after high school has value, and that value can and must be improved," Allan Golston, U.S. program president for the Gates Foundation, said Tuesday. "It has to be improved for Black, Latino, indigenous and underrepresented Asian American and Pacific Island students, and students from low-income backgrounds and for women."

The report states that its recommendations, which include steps to make college more affordable, are aimed at institutions and policymakers at all levels.

Talavera is a psychology major and set to attend commencement in August, an ASU spokesman said. Talavera, in describing his experience at ASU, said "college has definitely been worth it to me, I would never sit here and not point someone in that direction."

He said he thinks the commission's work can spark a "massive movement" to improve equity.

"We are opening the door for people like me who have no idea what the fruits and benefits of college are to see just exactly what they can do moving forward with this opportunity," Talavera said.

Questions raised by the report can help "colleges to see what they can better do to get us, people like me, in that position to better succeed in this life," he said.

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