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Graduates Growing More Diverse, Study Finds

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The number and collective diversity of high school graduates will increase steadily into the next millennium, according to a demographic study released last week.

By 2008, the nation's high schools will graduate a record 3.2 million students, 26 percent more than the 2.5 million students who completed high school in 1996, reports a study conducted jointly by the College Board and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

Nearly every state will also see a change in the ethnic composition of its graduates, with the Hispanic population experiencing the largest growth. In 1996, 9.5 percent of all U.S. high school graduates were Hispanic. By 2001, that proportion will rise to 11.1 percent, according to "Knocking at the College Door: Projections of High School Graduates by State and Race/Ethnicity, 1996-2012."

"There are as many challenges for K-12 in these numbers as there are for higher education," said Robin Etter Zuniga, a research associate for the Boulder, Colo.-based WICHE, an umbrella organization serving Western states and higher education institutions.

High schools must find a way to graduate a greater percentage of minority students to ensure that the growing minority population will not be locked out of higher education, Ms. Zuniga said.

"Students in these groups tend to have lower college-going rates and lower graduation rates," she said.

The study also has implications for policymakers already struggling to narrow the achievement gap between minority students and their white peers, said Howard Everson, the vice president of the teaching and learning division of the New York City-based College Board.

"Two-thirds of students of color attend poorly performing elementary and secondary schools, while three-fourths of all white children attend relatively well-performing schools," Mr. Everson said. "The gap will only be exacerbated by these projections."

Moving West

The greatest changes will be felt in Western states. The West is the fastest-growing region of the country, and by 2012 is expected to become "minority majority," with no single racial or ethnic group constituting a majority, Ms. Zuniga said.

In Nevada, for example, the number of high school graduates will climb to almost 23,000 by 2008, more than double the number in 1996.

By 2001, the percentage of white graduates in Nevada will fall to 66 percent, from 74 percent in 1996. The number of Hispanic students, by contrast, will increase to more than 17 percent in 2001, from 11 percent in 1996.

In California, where the number of high school graduates is projected to increase 38 percent by 2008, officials are planning a comprehensive expansion of the state's higher education facilities.

The state's colleges and universities will likely expand distance education "as a way to help us accommodate some students who would never have to set foot on campus," said Charles Ratliff, the deputy director of the California Postsecondary Education Commission.

In addition, California officials are trying to decide where to expand current institutions and where to build new campuses. To meet immediate demand, the state is looking into proposals for 20 new community colleges, Mr. Ratliff said.

"Our growth is going to be fueled largely by tremendous growth in the Latino and Asian populations," Mr. Ratliff said. "The largest share of demand is projected as hitting the community colleges first. That's where we expect the biggest crush."

Decreases in the number of high school graduates are projected for six states and the District of Columbia. In West Virginia, for example, the number of graduates is expected to drop 17 percent, to 17,500, by 2012, from 21,000 in 1996.

For More Information:

"Knocking at the College Door: Projections of High School Graduates by State and Race/Ethnicity 1996-2012" is available for $39 a copy by calling WICHE Publications at (301) 541-0290.

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