Credentials Earned: Trends in Kentucky Higher Education

by | May 22, 2019

The Council on Postsecondary Education is celebrating some good news: “The total number of undergraduate degrees and credentials conferred increased 2.9% in 2017-18 over the prior year, exceeding the 1.7% average annual increase needed to stay on track. This increase includes both the public and independent institutions.”

Based on data from Council’s terrific interactive tables, this post breaks out four trends within that progress:

  • The most impressive growth is a one-year 6.9% increase in undergraduate certificates
  • Hispanic or Latino students showed especially strong growth
  • Black non-Hispanic students had smaller gains and more losses
  • Students with low incomes lost ground in most categories

The most impressive growth is a one-year 6.9% increase in undergraduate certificates

Bachelor degrees rose 2.1%, while diplomas and associate degrees declining by 5.7% and 2.0% respectively.

In this chart and those below:

  • These credentials  listed were earned at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, Kentucky public universities, and institutional members of the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities.
  • The four credentials are listed in order of the time they take to complete. Some certificates can be earned in a single semester, while diplomas take less time than two-year associate degrees or four-year bachelor options.
  • The color coding reflects the Council’s goal for 2017-18 of a 1.7% growth rate, so growth above 1.7% is shown in green, slower growth is left white, and declines are shown in orange.

Hispanic or Latino students showed especially strong growth

While celebrating this progress, do note that Hispanic or Latino students receiving only 3.1% credentials earned in 2017-18. For comparison, Hispanic students were 6.0% of 2017-18 public high school graduates.

Black non-Hispanic students had smaller gains and more losses

While Black non-Hispanic students had growth in total credentials, the growth was smaller than for students overall, and it came entirely from certificates, with big losses in diplomas and smaller declines in both associate and bachelor degrees. In addition, Black non-Hispanic students earned only 6.9% of credentials, compared to being 6.3% of 2017-18 public high school graduates.

Students with low incomes lost ground in most categories

For this group, even the growth in certificates was below the Council’s 1.7% goal, and diplomas, associate degrees, and bachelor degrees saw declines. Even with the declines, students with low incomes earned a majority of the certificates, diplomas, and associate degrees conferred last year statewide, though they received fewer bachelor degrees than better-off students. (In higher education, low income identification is based on Pell grant eligibility, which is not quite right for direct comparison to K-12 rates of eligibility for free or reduced-price meals.)

These most recent trends show Kentucky is moving toward a better-educated adult population, with good reason to expect that to add strength to our economy and richness to all aspects of our civic life. They also show that we need to continue and accelerate our growth in attainment, with particular attention to groups who are not sharing fully in that growth, including Black non-Hispanic students and students with low-incomes.

ABOUT THE PRICHARD COMMITTEE

Since 1983, the Prichard Committee has worked to study priority issues, inform the public and policy makers about best practices and engage citizens, business leaders, families, students, and other stakeholders in a shared mission to move Kentucky to the top tier of all states for education excellence and equity for all children, from their earliest years through postsecondary education.

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