Equity Spotlight: Race & Gender

January 30, 2019

With a new charge from the BHE to build a strategic framework focused on closing equity gaps in Massachusetts public higher education, we begin with a closer look at current outcomes for one underserved yet rapidly growing population: Latino males.

In December 2018, the BHE voted to institute a new, top policy and performance priority for Massachusetts public higher education: Significantly raising the enrollment, attainment and long-term success outcomes among underrepresented student populations.

A key aspect of DHE’s work to build a strategic framework around this single equity priority is to identify the key populations across the Commonwealth whose outcomes differ significantly from the pleasing success story told by the state-level metrics. Indeed, Massachusetts’ standing on key education indicators at the state level is laudable—a nation-leading high school graduation rate, college enrollment rate and college attainment rate, as well as a respectable public system graduation rate:

MA Key Education Indicators: Statewide

Bar chart showing Massachusetts’ 2017 high school graduation rate at 88%, 2016 college enrollment rate at 76%, 2017 public college graduation rate at 50% and 2018 overall college attainment rate at 57%. All but the public college graduation rate are depicted with gold ribbons signifying Massachusetts’ nation-leading status on these indicators.
High School Graduation Rate Percentage of 9th graders in Massachusetts public high schools in 2013–14 who graduated high school by 2017. Source: DESE.
College Enrollment Rate Percentage of 2016 Massachusetts public high school graduates who enrolled in college within 16 months after high school graduation. Source: DESE, National Student Clearinghouse.
Public System Graduation Rate Percentage of first-time, degree-seeking students who initially enrolled at a Massachusetts public college or university in fall 2011 and graduated from any U.S. higher education institution by 2017. Source: DHE, National Student Clearinghouse.
Overall College Attainment Rate Percentage of 2018 Massachusetts residents age 25-64 who possess a college degree (associate or higher). Source: Current Population Survey, U.S. Census Bureau.

But a closer look at these key education indicators, broken out by the largest subgroups of race/ethnicity and gender in Massachusetts, reveal significant disparities:

MA Key Education Indicators: By Race/Ethnicity & Gender

For each of the key education indicators, a dot plot shows the spread among these subgroups: White Female, White Male, African American Female, African American Male, Latina Female, and Latino Male. On each rate, White students generally fall above the state average, and African American and Latinx students generally fall below. High school graduation rate is the most closely clustered, ranging from a low of 70% to a high of 94%. The other rates are more disparate, with college enrollment rate ranging from 53–85%, public college graduation rate ranging from 28–61%, and overall college attainment rate ranging from 22–65%.



White females consistently rank at the top of their peers on these metrics:

MA Key Education Indicators: By Race/Ethnicity & Gender

Dot plot highlighting the placement of White females in the spread. On each indicator, White females have the highest rate of all subgroups pictured, with a high school graduation rate of 94%, college enrollment rate of 85%, public college graduation rate of 61%, and overall college attainment rate of 65%.

While Latino males consistently rank at the bottom:

MA Key Education Indicators: By Race/Ethnicity & Gender

Dot plot highlighting the placement of Latino males in the spread. On each indicator, Latino males have the lowest rate of all subgroups pictured, with a high school graduation rate of 70%, college enrollment rate of 53%, public college graduation rate of 28%, and overall college attainment rate of 22%.

The gaps between these two populations are large, with Latino males currently trailing their White female peers by 24 to 43 percentage points:

MA Key Education Indicators: By Race/Ethnicity & Gender

Chart highlighting the size of the gaps between White females and Latino males on the key education indicators. Latino males trail White females by 24 percentage points on high school graduation rate, 32 percentage points on college enrollment rate, 33 percentage points on public college graduation and 43 percentage points on overall college attainment.

Trend data show these disparities have been persistent. Not only that, but in the case of college-going rates, the rate for Latino males is actually on the decline:

College Enrollment Rates: By Race/Ethnicity & Gender

Line chart showing college enrollment rates from 2003–2016 generally increasing over time for each subgroup pictured, with the exception of Latino males. In addition to Latino males consistently having the lowest rate each year (beginning around 40% in 2003), the Latino male rate peaked at 58% in 2013 before beginning to decline, reaching 53% in 2016.

Coupled with population projections for Massachusetts, these findings give us even more cause for concern. Not only will Massachusetts be facing a decline in its youth population in the coming years, but Latinx students also represent a rapidly growing segment of this pipeline. By 2032, it is projected that nearly 1 in 4 students in the high school graduate pipeline will be Latinx:

MA Public HS Graduating Classes: By Race/Ethnicity & Gender

Area chart showing actual and projected sizes of Massachusetts public high school graduating classes from 2002–2032, broken out by race/ethnicity. Chart highlights the end points of the chart, showing a 2002 population that was 81% White, 6% Latinx, 7% African American and 5% Other, and a 2032 population that is projected to be 56% White, 22% Latinx, 11% African American and 10% Other. Looking at all populations combined, the chart also shows that, after robust growth from 2002–2008, then a relative plateau until 2023, and then a brief surge until 2025, a sharp decline in the total number of graduates is projected, with 2032 reaching the lowest point since 2005.

Collectively, these data point to Latino males as a potentially key target population for the equity strategic framework for Massachusetts public higher education. Future “Equity Spotlights” during the strategic planning process will focus on other disparities, such as gaps between low-income students and their higher SES peers.


This is the first in a series of four “Equity Spotlights” planned for Spring 2019. Check back in mid-March for the second installment.