Study Finds an ‘Alarming’ Decline In Minorities’ College-Going Rate

By Robert Rothman — November 04, 1987 4 min read

The decline in black and Hispanic enrollments in college has reached “alarming proportions,” and the shrinking number of minority students planning to become teachers could make the problem much worse in the future, a new report by the American Council on Education concludes.

Although the number of black and Hispanic students graduating from high school increased from 1976 to 1985, the proportion of those graduates entering college declined by roughly one-fourth over the same period, according to a draft of the council’s sixth annual status report on minorities in higher education.

Moreover, the ace found, the number of minority college students pursuing degrees in education dropped by one-half during the 10-year period, and a slight increase in the proportion of minority teachers during the 1980’s failed to keep pace with the sharp rise in the minority school-age population.

“These trends mean that all students will see fewer minority teachers throughout their educational experience,” states the report. “This is particularly problematic for minority students who need minority teachers as role models.”

Recent state efforts to require prospective teachers to pass competency tests, together with proposals to require graduate training for teacher certification, may also reduce the future supply of minority teachers, the report warns.

It urges policymakers to focus their efforts on raising the level of student achievement, not merely on improving the teaching profession.

Blacks and Hispanics showed4comparably sharp declines in college enrollment during the decade studied, according to the report, which will be released in final form this week.

‘Alarming’ Declines

Between 1976 and 1985, the percentage of black high-school graduates entering college decreased from 33.5 percent to 26.1 percent, the study found, while the proportion for Hispanics dropped even more, from 35.8 percent to 26.9 percent.

These declines are “particularly alarming,” the report states, since the number and proportion of minority high-school graduates increased during the same period.

Many graduates not going to college are attending proprietary trade and business schools, it says, noting that minorities make up 32 percent of enrollment in such schools. The number of minority students enrolled in proprietary schools has climbed sharply in the past five years. (See Education Week, June 10, 1987.)

The U.S. armed forces provide another popular alternative to college for minority high-school graduates, the report indicates. It notes that blacks constituted 19 percent of active-duty military personnel in 1984, up from 14.8 percent in 1975.

Education Degrees

The study also found that, like their nonminority peers, minority students in college have moved away from education majors and toward degree programs in business and management.

In all, it found, minority students received more bachelor’s degrees in business, engineering, life sciences, and the health professions in 1984 than they did in 1975, while the number of baccalaureate degrees in education awarded to such students fell by 50.2 percent.

Once the most popular undergraduate major for minority students, education has now slipped to third, behind business and the social sciences, the report says.

At the graduate level, education remains the most popular field for minorities, it says. Nevertheless, it adds, the number of doctorates in education earned by minority students declined by nearly 11 percent between 1976 and 1985, and the minority proportion of students earning education doctorates is smaller than the minority proportion of the general population.

Screening Out

Largely as a result of these trends, the ace report says, the proportion of minority teachers has failed to keep pace with the sharp increase in the number of black and Hispanic elementary- and secondary-school students.

In 1984, it says, the public-school teaching force was 8.9 percent black and 2.5 percent Hispanic, for a combined proportion of 11.4 percent. Although that percentage represented a slight increase from 1980, when blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities accounted for 9.9 percent of teachers, it fell far short of the proportion of minority pupils.

The proportion of minority students at the elementary and secondary levels rose from 26.7 percent in 1980 to 28.7 percent in 1984, the report notes.

“In no state with a large minority population does the percentage of minority teachers come close to the percentage of minority students,’' it states, “and in most of those states, the number of minority teachers is declining while the the numbers of black, Hispanic, and Asian school-age students are increasing.”

Efforts by states to require teachers to pass competency tests are having a deleterious effect on the minority teaching force, the report says. In every state that reported results of such tests, it notes, the passing rate for minorities was lower than that for whites.

“The data, although limited, are clear,” the report maintains. “Use of competency testing is screening minorities out of teaching at an alarmingly high rate at every level.”

Moreover, it states, if recent proposals to shift teacher education to the graduate level are adopted, an unintended result could be even fewer minority teachers.

“Adding a year to study required for entering the profession will cause disproportionate economic hardship for minority students,” it argues. “For many, education may cease to be a viable career.”

Copies of the report are available for $7.50 each from the Office of Minority Concerns, American Council on Education, 1 Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. 20036.

A version of this article appeared in the November 04, 1987 edition of Education Week as Study Finds an ‘Alarming’ Decline In Minorities’ College-Going Rate