Press Release

Civil rights, student-serving, veteran, and education organizations present blueprint for closing gaps in postsecondary attainment and improving economic competitiveness

NEW YORK – As New York State works to recover from the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the REACH NY network of civil rights, student-serving, veteran, and education organizations today called on state leaders to adopt a postsecondary attainment goal that will help improve the state’s overall economic competitiveness and improve economic justice and equity.

Committing to an attainment goal of 60% for New Yorkers of all races and ethnicities by 2030 would mean that 6.5 million residents would hold a postsecondary degree or credential by 2030 — representing a 484,000 increase in postsecondary attainment over current projections.

In the report released today, Aiming Higher, REACH NY explains how adopting an ambitious and equity-driven postsecondary attainment goal and enacting the policy changes needed to meet it would advance the pathway to a stronger economy and more equitable future for all New York residents.

Now more than ever, economic opportunity and financial security are intertwined with educational attainment. Even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting massive recession, the national unemployment rate in September was 4.8% for workers with a bachelor’s or advanced degree, compared to 9% for workers with only a high school diploma and 8.1% for those with some college but no degree.

Alongside the coronavirus, the nation is also grappling with the second pandemic of systemic racism. The devastating impact of these dual pandemics is evident in the experiences of people of color who are too often denied educational and economic opportunities and, as a result, are overrepresented in low-wage service and hospitality sector jobs that have proven especially vulnerable to layoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To reach an ambitious and essential attainment goal of 60% degree and certificate completion by 2030, New York State needs a blueprint for increasing attainment and eliminating attainment gaps.

REACH NY recommends that in implementing the attainment goal, the state should:

  • Establish interim benchmarks that reflect the specific progress the state is making toward meeting the attainment goal and closing equity gaps;
  • Create a data tool and regional reports that measure the progress toward meeting the interim and final attainment goals by race and ethnicity; and
  • Create institution-level data snapshots and data-driven analyses that help stakeholders identify and address opportunity gaps in enrollment, persistence, and completion.

To meet the attainment goal, key policy levers include:

  • Affordability and access, including ensuring that students can meet basic needs like food, shelter, clothing, and technology and that courses are offered at flexible times that meet the scheduling needs of students;
  • Improving completion, including through stronger advising practices, seamless transfers, and an overhaul of remediation;
  • Pathways to careers, including focused pathways that lead to stable and meaningful career opportunity; and
  • Accountability and transparency, including efforts in student admissions, recruitment, persistence, and completion that improve outcomes for underrepresented and underserved students, along with a statewide early childhood-to-workforce data system to identify and address equity gaps in the educational pipeline.

“Few things are more important to improving higher education in New York State than the establishment of a postsecondary attainment goal and measurement system,” said Judith Lorimer, director of DegreesNYC. “We need a goal that focuses on the economic needs of the state as well as the need for racial and economic equity. It is time to come out strong together to look at where we are can build a system that works for kids from all regions, races, and ethnicities.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic — which threatens to exacerbate educational inequities and access to job opportunities based on educational attainment — underscores the need to address persistent opportunity gaps in our education system,” said Francisco Miguel Araiza, associate director of research and policy for The Education Trust–New York. “An equity-driven postsecondary attainment goal and the higher education policies necessary to achieve it will provide all New York residents — especially Black, Latinx, American Indian, and other residents who are often denied economic and educational opportunities — a pathway to economic security and postsecondary success, while ensuring the state can meet the needs of a rapidly changing economy.”

“After almost a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the education system’s failure to comprehensively address racial and social disparities has left many Black, Latinx, and low-income students struggling to access quality learning and basic educational supports,” said Melodie Baker, national policy director for Just Equations. “Setting meaningful attainment targets is more important than ever to mitigate those disparities and improve equitable access to postsecondary success.”

“The disruptive impact COVID-19 has had on New York’s education system has heightened the need for postsecondary readiness supports that equip our students to enter college and careers successfully. Even as enrollment rates were increasing before the pandemic, the majority of Latinx students who enrolled in college failed to obtain a degree, leaving many unprepared to reach career goals and making clear the need for programs and policies that ensure long-term success,” said Frankie Miranda, president and CEO of Hispanic Federation. “On behalf of our young people, we stand with the REACH NY network in urging New York State to clearly identify attainment goals to serve as a guide in drafting policies to provide students with a system of college and career development, including work-based learning opportunities, mental health support, and rigorous coursework.”

“The New York State Association for College Admission Counseling (NYSACAC) is proud to be part of REACH NY’s educational attainment statement,” said Marissa Guijaro, president of NYSACAC. “The objectives and strategies outlined here align with NYSACAC’s mission to promote access, equity, and success in postsecondary education, particularly for students who have traditionally been underserved and underrepresented. It is time for New York to implement a statewide goal.”

“New York must act now to ensure all students have access to the higher education opportunities that will prepare them for a successful future,” said Arva Rice, president and CEO of the New York Urban League. “The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the disparities in postsecondary opportunities that have long persisted for historically underserved students. We cannot afford to waste any time ensuring that all students have access to a postsecondary education that will give them the skills they need to fully participate in the workforce. The future of our communities and our state economy depend on it.”

“The attainment goals outlined in Aiming Higher present a means by which to remedy disparities in higher education,” said Issac McMahon, director of racial justice for Veterans Education Success. “This is essential to closing the attainment gap for veterans of color who account for a large portion of the population we serve and who are disproportionately impacted by existing systemic barriers impeding both access to and completion in higher education. We are proud to be part of the REACH NY network as it engages in this work.”

Read the full report at edtrustny.org/reachny.

Raising Equity & Attainment in College Higher (REACH NY) is a postsecondary equity policy and advocacy network with a steering committee made up of Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology, DegreesNYC, The Education Trust–New York, Hispanic Federation, Ibero-American Action League, New York Urban League, New York State Association for College Admissions Counseling, Say Yes to Education–Buffalo, Veterans Education Success, and Young Invincibles.