Whites and Nonwhites Divided on Race As Factor in College Access, Poll Finds

By Mark Walsh — October 11, 1989 3 min read

Among the survey findings:

The results of the survey, conducted by the Gallup Organization and released last week by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, show a sharp split between whites and nonwhites on whether a person’s race affects his chances of obtaining a college education. Fifty-nine percent of the nonwhite adults responding said race makes it harder for minority students to pursue higher education, compared with 42 percent of white respondents who thought so.

Of respondents over all, 45 percent said all high-school graduates, regardless of race, have equal access to a college education. A nearly equal proportion, 44 percent, said an individual’s race can make it harder to gain access. Only 4 percent said race makes it easier for a minority student to get a college education.

Asked to rate various ways for colleges and universities to increase access to higher education, 81 percent of the nonwhite respondents said it was “extremely important” for those institutions to work more closely with elementary and secondary schools.

Substantial majorities of the nonwhites surveyed also cited the following as extremely important: increasing counseling services (73 percent), providing more scholar4ships and other financial aid (72 percent), “working with parents and community groups” (70 percent), and “improving social climate on college campuses” (69 percent).

By contrast, considerably smaller proportions of the white respondents considered such steps “extremely important.” The highest-rated remedies cited by whites were working with parents and community groups (58 percent) and improving ties between higher and precollegiate education (54 percent). Slightly fewer than half the whites called for better counseling, and only 37 percent cited a need for improvements in financial aid and the social climate on campuses.

Lang Chairing Commission

In a statement accompanying the findings’ release, Gary H. Quehl, the president of case, said colleges “have developed thousands of innovative programs and are investing significant resources” in an effort to improve minority access to their programs. “However,” he added, “the survey underscores that we can take nothing for granted and must continue to explore a wide range of options.”

Case officials noted that their organization, which represents some 2,850 colleges, universities, and independent elementary and secondary schools, recently formed a commission on educational opportunity, chaired by the philanthropist Eugene Lang. Mr. Lang, founder of the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, and the other panelists will work to encourage colleges to become more involved in helping minority and disadvantaged students at all levels of education.

The new findings were taken from a telephone survey of 1,253 adults that sought to gauge the level of public satisfaction with the nation’s colleges and universities.

Rating Higher Education

According to the survey, most Americans give high marks to higher-education institutions for their scientific research, but assign them a grade of C or lower for their performance in such other areas as preparing students for the workforce, producing well-qualified teachers, and fostering good citizenship.

Among the survey findings:

  • Most respondents gave the institutions either a B (38 percent) or a C (35 percent) for their overall performance. Only 6 percent gave them a grade of A, while 10 percent gave a grade of D or F.

  • Slightly fewer than half the respondents gave colleges and universities a grade of A or B for their role in providing all Americans an equal opportunity to succeed. But about 47 percent gave a grade of C or below in that area.

  • Institutions got only a C or below from 52 percent of the respondents for their success in preparing students to become productive members of the workforce; 43 percent of those surveyed gave an A or B in this category.

  • More than half of those surveyed (55 percent) gave colleges a C or below for their ability to produce good teachers, compared with 39 percent who gave them an A or B.

  • About three out of five respondents gave a grade of C or below for colleges’ success at making young people good citizens.