SALT LAKE CITY — Absent an intervention, ethnic minority students' rates of college enrollment and completion will continue to lag behind their white peers even as Utah becomes increasingly diverse.
This "opportunity gap" not only has consequences for individuals' earning power and socioeconomic status, it would negatively impact the state's capacity to meet labor market demands, according to a new report by Utah System of Higher Education researchers.
The report, based on demographic projections by the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Institute and higher education system data, says Utah is expected to experience a significant demographic shift over the next 30 years.
By 2050, race and ethnic minorities are expected to comprise 30% of the state's population, compared to 18% presently.
At state colleges and universities, Utah's white population, age 18-35, has enrolled in college at an average rate of 15.1% over the past five years, compared to an average rate of 11.6% for race and ethnic minorities over the same time period.
The report points out similar gaps in average college completion rates at state institutions over the past five years: 32.1% for white students and 25.7% for minority populations.
"Without significant changes in higher education outcomes, the shift will result in declining educational attainment in the state. USHE researchers estimate a potential forgone benefit of roughly 290,000 degrees and awards between 2020 and 2065," the Utah System of Higher Education brief states.
"The impact will reach beyond the state’s postsecondary education system, as a diminution of education within the workforce will affect Utah’s socioeconomic status and overall capacity to meet the demands of an evolving labor market."
Carrie Mayne, associate commissioner for workforce and institutional research for the Utah System of Higher Education, told the Utah State Board of Regents Friday that absent an intervention, the "opportunity gap" will continue grow.
"That's a significant problem that we need to address," Mayne said.
By 2065, it is projected that Utah's minority populations will contribute one-half of all population growth annually, she said.
"So think of it this way. If you have 100 new citizens in the state of Utah, be it from birth or migration, 50% of those citizens will be of our minority populations," Mayne said.
Utah's system of public colleges and universities "should see this as an opportunity, but something that we need to reflect upon and look at our policies and ensure our policies are going to meet those needs moving forward.
"We know that those additional citizens will be citizens who will need education and will want the resources from higher education. Are we prepared to provide those?" Mayne said.
Salt Lake Community College President Deneece G. Huftalin, who serves as a commissioner on the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, a regional college and university accreditation body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, said the work is "timely and probably a little overdue."
The Northwest Commission is creating standards that will include disaggregated data on student achievement by race and gender, she said.
"That will be a component of accreditation, so going and getting this data and moving to make sure we're doing right by those folks is going to be really important," Huftalin said.
The report also shows that male ethnic minorities in Utah have the lowest percentage of their populations attending Utah public universities and colleges.
Male Native Americans at 8.52%, male Hispanics at 8.72% and male Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders at 9.74% represent three of the bottom four categories of college participation. Only female Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders had a lower participation rate at 8.48%, the report states.
The board of regents directed higher education staff to take a "deep dive" into existing policies and practice and develop recommendations for the board's consideration, said Regent Jesselie Anderson, chairwoman of the board's workforce, access and advocacy committee. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org