Budget Cuts Seen Imperiling Minority Enrollment Gains
WASHINGTON--Racial and ethnic minorities continue to make modest gains in college enrollment, but those gains are "imperiled'' by state-budget cutbacks and other barriers to completing degrees, a report released last week concludes.
Minority-group members experienced a 9.1 percent enrollment gain from 1990 to 1991 nationwide, but research shows that many who enter college are not completing their degrees, according to the American Council on Education's annual status report on minorities in higher education.
"We are enrolling [minority] students, but we are not graduating them at the same rate,'' said Deborah J. Carter, the acting director of the A.C.E.'s office of minorities in higher education.
Robert H. Atwell, the president of the A.C.E., said that "access by minorities to higher education is in peril'' because of the imbalance between federal loans and grants, the impending cut in the maximum Pell Grant award from $2,400 to $2,300, and tight state fiscal conditions.
Enrollment of African-American students increased by 7.1 percent from 1990 to 1991, the report states, while Hispanics recorded a 10.7 percent gain, Asian-Americans an 11.2 percent gain, and Native Americans a 10.7 percent gain.
Much of this growth occurred at two-year institutions, where minority enrollment grew by 13.4 percent for the year, compared with a 5.9 percent increase at four-year institutions.
African-American enrollment at historically black colleges and universities grew by 3.1 percent from 1990 to 1991, compared with a 7.8 percent increase at institutions that historically have served mainly whites, the report says.
Despite researchers' fears about barriers to completing degrees, the number of degrees awarded to minority-group members actually grew from 1989 to 1990, the report shows.
Bachelor's degrees awarded to minorities increased by 5.8 percent, compared with a 2.7 percent gain for white students. Associate's degrees jumped by 5 percent for minorities, compared with a 3.9 percent increase for whites.
A special section of the report examining state enrollment trends from 1980 to 1990 shows that minorities made gains in most states, but that the increases lagged behind general population increases for minority groups during the decade.
During the 1980's, Hispanics experienced a 65.8 percent enrollment gain nationally, while Native American enrollment gained by 22.6 percent and African-American enrollment by 12.6 percent.
Asian-American enrollment nearly doubled during the decade, while enrollment of non-Hispanic whites increased by 9 percent.
Minority enrollment in several states examined closely by the A.C.E. has remained level in recent years despite the recession, but that trend may be reversing, said Reginald Wilson, a senior scholar with the group.
In Virginia, for example, minorities continued to make enrollment gains between 1990 and 1992, despite a 13 percent drop in state support for higher education.
In New York State, however, "budget troubles have coincided with some minority-enrollment losses,'' the report notes.
Enrollment of African-American students dropped by 6.2 percent at two-year institutions in New York State from 1990 to 1991. Enrollment in four-year colleges remained the same.
The report warns that enrollment caps imposed by states to manage growth during tight financial times may take their toll on underrepresented minority groups.
In California, for example, admission rates for African-American and Hispanic applicants to the University of California system have dropped by 5 percent during the past four years, the report points out.
State support for higher education in California has decreased by 12 percent during the past two years, it says. Both the University of California and California State University systems have reduced their enrollments, and the state's community colleges had to turn away 100,000 students last year because of class-size reductions.
Gains in Wisconsin
This "downsizing'' of state higher-education systems is bound to take a toll on minority representation, the report warns.
However, it notes, some states, such as Wisconsin, have managed their enrollments in a way that remains sensitive to the goal of improving minority access to college.
From 1990 to 1991, even as the University of Wisconsin system was reducing its overall enrollment, Hispanic enrollment grew by 10.6 percent, Asian-American enrollment by 9.4 percent, Native American enrollment by 7 percent, and African-American enrollment by 1.4 percent.
"Keeping the doors of opportunity open in the 1990's will require a strong commitment from state lawmakers, college presidents, and all educators, as well as an increased funding commitment to state financial-aid programs for low-income students,'' the report concludes.
The study also found that high school completion rates for whites, African-Americans, and Hispanics all declined slightly in 1991.
For African-Americans, the rate of high school completion for 18- to 24-year-olds declined by 2 percentage points in 1991, to 75.1 percent. For whites, the figure was 81.7 percent, while the rate for Hispanics was 52.1 percent.
Copies of the report, "Minorities in Higher Education: 1992,'' are available for $10.50 each, prepaid, from the American Council on Education, 1 Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. 20036.