Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Friday July 24th, 2015, 1:07pm

Report: Higher Ed Investments Key To Closing Racial Unemployment Gap In Illinois

Young Illinois adults of color are facing significant disparities in employment, wages and educational attainment, a new report shows.

The Millennial research and advocacy group Young Invincibles put out the report, arguing that greater investments in higher education are key to closing the gaps.

"Creating more opportunities for people of color to attain higher education is a critical step towards addressing the striking disparities in employment and wages in Illinois and nationwide," Eve Rips, Midwest director of Young Invincibles, said in a statement. "With Illinois students paying some of highest tuition in the country, proposed cuts to higher education could further fuel racial disparities in education attainment."

Nearly 50 percent of white Illinois adults aged 25 to 34 hold a least a bachelor's degree, compared to just 34 percent of blacks and 18 percent of Hispanics, the report finds.

And while 66 percent of white Illinois college students complete four-year programs within six years, only 36 percent of blacks and 44 percent of Hispanics in the state do so. 

Nationwide, Young Invincibles found that young black adults on average require two additional levels of higher education to have the same job prospects as their white peers.

In Illinois, the report says state higher education cuts disproportionately impact students of color and their degree completion rates.

"[S]ince the Great Recession, Illinois has cut the higher education funding spent directly on students and their families by over half a billion dollars," the report says. "In the last ten years, tuition has increased by 57 percent at public four-year universities in Illinois - a substantially higher spike than the 42 percent increase seen nationally. Current and proposed budget cuts stand to make the racial disparities in educational attainment continue to increase over time."

When it comes to racial disparities in employment, the jobless rate among black Illinois adults aged 18 to 34 is more than twice that of whites at 27.4 percent and 9.4 percent, respectively. 

Earnings among Illinoisans also differ along racial lines.

In Illinois, the median household income is $62,320 for whites, $45,074 for Hispanics and $32,244 for blacks.

Young Invincible's report includes various policy recommendations to improve the educational attainment of young Illinoisans of color, including increased funding and counseling for MAP grants, implementation of more dual degree programs and the creation of "College Choice Reports," which would provide students with information on college options in an accessible format. 

The group also wants the state to "restrict use of MAP funds at low-performing for-profit colleges and require tighter regulation of for-profit activity." Additionally, Young Invincibles says there should be greater "collaboration between community colleges and growth industries" so more grads have pathways into jobs. 

"Since the recession, tuition has soared while aid has decreased, leaving higher education increasingly out of the reach of students from low-income backgrounds, reinforcing the cycle of generational poverty," the report reads. "In order to close Illinois' race gaps in unemployment, Illinois should look to policies that make a postsecondary degree easier for underrepresented groups to attain. The policies proposed here may not entirely solve the problem, but they are key steps towards increasing the availability of information, college affordability, college completion rates and post-graduation employment."

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