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New report card grades access at nation's flagships

A new report by the Education Trust points to a national problem with access to higher education for low-income and minority students. The report, titled “Engines of Inequality: Diminishing Equity in the Nation's Premier Public Universities,” grades 50 national “flagship” universities, including Ohio State.

The report singles out Ohio State as an important example of what a flagship university can do when committed to improving access.

“Ohio State is working hard on this problem and we're happy to see that our numbers are shifting,” said Tally Hart, Ohio State's senior advisor for Economic Access, a newly formed office that focuses on ways to recruit students from low-income families. “But there is much work to do. One of our biggest challenges is reaching students early and letting them know that college is affordable. For most students, the sticker price of tuition is not the actual price. Low-income and minority students need to know that financial aid will help pay most of their costs.”

Hart, who formerly directed the Office of Student Financial Aid, said that Ohio State focuses on making success as important as access. The university's programs reflect the lessons learned from families of low-income and minority students. They include programs to connect students more closely to the institution so they graduate. Those programs have helped improve both the graduation rate and the numbers of freshmen who return for their sophomore year. They also include new strategies for financial aid packaging, a website, www.osu.edu/access/ and radio PSAs that encourage needy students to take the right steps to go to college.

The Education Trust report concludes that while more students are completing advanced college preparatory courses, the nation's flagship universities are turning low-income and minority students away. Instead of evaluating institutional quality indicators such as selectivity, the report draws data from a variety of sources to generate scores measuring access and success for under-represented minority students. Of the 200 grades in the document more than one-third were “F's.”

The report card, which is based on data from 2004, grades institutions on six subjects: minority (African-American, Latino and Native American students) access; progress in minority access; access for low-income students, progress in access for low-income students, minority student success; and change in access and success of minority students 1986-2005.

The report highlights Ohio State's commitment to improving access. It states, “Because the university, as the economic and intellectual engine of Ohio, wants to stay true to its mission to educate a broad section of Ohio's citizens, it not only aggressively recruits low-income and minority students, but it also has initiated a series of programs to retain them. Now 26 percent of the student body qualifies for Pell Grants, and on Grade 6 of our scorecard, OSU has the highest trend grade for access and success for underrepresented minorities.”

Based on a number of indicators such as four- and six-year graduation rates, graduation rates for minority students, and freshman-to-sophomore retention rates, Ohio State earned an overall grade of “C.”

Since 2004, results at Ohio State have continued to improve. The percentage of freshmen returning for their second year has increased to 91.5 percent. The six-year graduation rates have increased from 68 percent in 2004 to 71 percent last year; the four-year rate has improved from 39 to 42 percent. Minority graduation rates also have improved. For the class entering in 1999, the six-year rate was 57 percent for African-American students, and 57 percent for Latino students.

The Education Trust was established in 1990 by the American Association for Higher Education to encourage colleges and universities to support K-12 reform efforts. It has since grown into an independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to make schools and colleges work for all of the young people they serve.