How to Achieve Diversity in Boston and Massachusetts Business
by Gary Kaplan, Executive Director of JFYNetWorks and David Driscoll, former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education. | Originally published by the Boston Business Journal on 11/11/16. See the original post here.
Speaking to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce last month, Mayor Walsh challenged Boston’s business leaders to confront their lack of diversity and to assemble a workforce and leadership teams reflective of the city’s demographics. The response was enthusiastically positive. But how can diversity actually be achieved?
Leadership teams rise from the workforce, and the workforce of the Boston and Massachusetts business community comes more than ever from the college graduate pool. Promotion through the ranks is a natural process of corporate capillarity. Despite the steps that many businesses are taking to improve diversity, in order for more people of color to rise through the workforce there has to be a more diverse pool of college graduates. This is where the problem begins.
African American and Hispanic people are underrepresented in the college graduate pool, especially in Massachusetts. 32% of African American adults in the Bay State have post-secondary degrees, compared to 53% of whites. This 21-point gap, the fifth highest in the country, has grown since 2007. Among Latino adults, 22% have post-secondary degrees. This 31 point gap, which has also grown, places Massachusetts third in the country in educational disparity. And since the total numbers of African Americans and Latinos are smaller than the total white population, the degree disparities cut even deeper into the talent pool.
Why is there such a gap? It’s not because African American and Latino students don’t enroll in college. African Americans enroll in college at higher rates (71%) than whites (67%), with Latinos a close third at 65%. It’s when they get to college that the gap opens. The dividing wedge is remedial courses.
Almost twice as many African American (51%) and Latino (53%) freshmen are required to take remedial courses in public higher education as white (28%) students. These remedial courses are required because students do not meet the colleges’ minimum thresholds in math and language skills. Remedial courses cost the same as regular courses but give no degree credit. They extend the time and inflate the cost of a degree. Less than 25% of students who start college in remedial courses will finish any degree. This is where the under-representation of “diverse” candidates becomes a fait accompli. Students who do not complete any form of post-secondary education will not be candidates for promotion in any leading Boston or Massachusetts company, no matter how committed that company might be to diversity.
This higher education gap has to be closed– and it can be closed. Whatever the shortcomings of previous schooling, the last two years of high school can focus on the skills necessary for college admission at the credit-earning level without remediation. (This is actually the official definition of “College and Career Readiness.”) Using college placement tests as a diagnostic guide, schools can deliver focused and individualized instruction, most efficiently online, to fill gaps in language and computation skills. After instruction, the placement tests can be re-administered and passed before students leave high school. The obstacle of remedial courses—and the skill gaps that occasion them– can be eliminated in high school and students can start college where they belong, in credit-earning courses that lead to a degree. This is not a speculative idea: the strategy is currently in operation in four schools in Boston and eleven others around the state. It can easily be scaled up.
Mayor Walsh has issued the challenge. The business community has accepted it with enthusiasm. The goal of diversity can be reached through a statewide college and career readiness program with sufficient public and private support to reach all students. If we focus the last two years of high school on closing the college readiness gap, we will find the talent pool growing both deeper and more diverse.
–David Driscoll and Gary Kaplan
Driscoll is the former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education. Kaplan is the Executive Director of JFYNetWorks, a nonprofit provider of blended learning programs.