4 critical areas in higher education that get the least support

A new report highlights the four student need areas two-year MSIs serve; discusses need for support and growth.

MSI-MSIsAccording to new research, two-year minority-serving institutions (MSIs), which are tasked with educating students-in-need, are given the fewest resources.

This revelation is concerning, say researchers, since MSIs are uniquely positioned to play an important role in educational attainment and the workforce, according to On Their Own Terms: Two-Year Minority Serving Institutions, a new report examining MSIs’ potential for students and society.

A large number of all students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities attend two-year MSIs. In fact, two-year MSIs enroll 30 percent of Hispanics/Latinos, 26 percent of Pacific Islanders,
22 percent of Asian Americans, 12 percent of American Indians, 10 percent of blacks/African
Americans, and 6 percent of whites.

Two-year MSIs “linger in the shadows of American higher education research,” the authors note, adding that four-year colleges and universities receive the majority of research attention, and when that attention does turn to two-year institutions, MSIs are not always placed in their own category.

(Next page: What research reveals about two-year MSIs)

According to Institute for Higher Education Policy, two-year MSIs have fewer resources than four-year MSIs and two-year non-MSIs. Their per-student spending is lower when it comes to student services and academic and institutional support.

“It appears that the postsecondary institutions tasked with educating students with some of the biggest needs are given the fewest resources,” the authors note.

While community colleges in general have an important place in postsecondary education, workforce preparation, developmental education, postsecondary credential receipt, transfer, and labor market outcomes “are particularly relevant for two-year MSIs,” according to the report.

Developmental education

Because many low-income and minority students come from communities with under-resourced K-12 schools, “a significant number of students [are] underprepared for college-level work.”

MSIs can be “critical partners” in efforts to eliminate racial gaps in postsecondary education.

Disaggregating data on remedial course enrollment by ethinicity and race might help shed light on the how MSIs support minority students as they produce college-level work.

Postsecondary credential report

“Two-year MSIs play an important role in sub-baccalaureate credential receipt, especially for racial/ethnic minority students,” according to the report. National Center on Education Statistics data from 2012 reveal that “two-year MSIs enroll 20 percent of minorities and graduate 29 percent of minority associate degree recipients annually.”

Transfers & STEM

Data suggest that MSIs play a very critical role in helping minority students transfer to four-year institutions, especially those students who eventually earn degrees in STEM fields.

Close to 44 percent of all students earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in science and engineering attend community college. Corresponding rates for minority groups are: 51 percent of Latino students, 44 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native students, 44 percent of black students, and 40 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students.

Labor market outcomes

“Two-year colleges provide individuals with the ability to improve their opportunities in the workforce through relevant coursework, sub-baccalaureate certificates, and associate degrees,” according to the report, though how much MSI matriculation or credential receipt impacts workforce opportunities or salary potential has not yet been studied.

The report’s authors identified five critical areas that might help improve understanding of two-year MSIs and how they influence the four areas outlined above:

1. How does students’ knowledge of an institution’s MSI status, or lack thereof, shape their pathways to completion and transfer, if at all?

2. How do MSI eligibility criteria affect two-year enrollment and completion (i.e., credential receipt and transfer) by ethnicity and race in relevant geographic areas? How has this changed over time, if at all, for various groups?

3. What is the capacity of two-year MSIs to close educational attainment gaps by ethnicity and race? How do federal, state, and local policies influence two-year MSIs’ ability to decrease these gaps?

4. To what extent do two-year MSIs contribute to the economic conditions (including labor market outcomes) of their ethnic/racial minority and low-income students? How does access to the federal Pell grant influence outcomes?

5. How are federal MSI funds affecting gaps in educational attainment and economic stability for low-income and minority groups? What data, infrastructure, and policies are needed to evaluate this at the institutional and state levels?

“Community colleges that are MSIs are essential, in that they serve students who often face myriad academic, financial, political, and personal challenges,” the authors conclude. “As a nation, we need to pay more attention to these under-resourced
institutions and their students.”

But more research is needed on program and policies at two-year MSIs, they add: “Two-year MSIs are poised to support greater social mobility and economic stability for racial/ethnic minority and low-income students—but only if we invest in
them in meaningful and effective ways.”

The report is sponsored by the Center for Minority Serving Institutions, the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, and the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment.

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Laura Ascione

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