Women's College-Enrollment Rate Surpasses Men's

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Washington--Women have surpassed men in college-attendance rates and for the first time are earning bachelor's degrees at rates comparable to those of men, according to an American College Testing Program study released here last week.

Since passage of the 1965 Higher Education Act, which targeted inequities in higher-education opportunity and triggered institutional measures to increase access for women and minorities, women have refocused their ambitions and expanded their potential career choices, the study says.

That change in focus has lead to greater rates of high-school graduation, college participation, and degree attainment among women, even though their college-preparatory test scores have not improved to any considerable degree, the study found.

But unlike women, blacks and Hispanics--especially Mexican Americans--have not achieved equity with whites, and low-income students are not going to college at rates similar to those of their wealthier counterparts, the study states.

Although blacks and Hispanics have made great strides in college preparation, the study says, their college-participation and degree-attainment rates have stagnated.

"The final tally of equity accomplishments over the last 25 years is decidedly mixed," according to the study, written by Thomas G. Mortensen. "[T]he record for females compared to males [is] one of persistent, pervasive, and substantial progress. ... The record for blacks, Hispanics, and the low income is not finished and in many respects was never attempted."

The study does not suggest explanations for the failure of blacks, Hispanics, and low-income students to achieve equity. But in an interview, Mr. Mortensen suggested several reasons, including the failure of federal financial aid to keep up with the cost of college; the shift in federal aid from grants to loans; the inability of colleges and universities to provide a comfortable atmosphere for minorities on their predominantly white campuses; and the inadequate preparation and low expectations of minorities for college-level work.

Mr. Mortensen's report confirms previous studies that have described drops in college-participation and graduation rates for minorities over the past several years. For women, the study acknowledges gains at every educational level as well as wider opportunities in selecting schools and careers.

According to the study, for every 100 men between the ages of 25 and 29 who had attained a bachelor's degree in 1965, only 61 women in the same age range had earned a degree. By 1989, 96 women were receiving degrees for every 100 men, the study says, and soon more women than men will be earning degrees.

Meanwhile, high-school graduation rates for women ages 20 and 21 increased from 79 percent in 1967 to approximately 85 percent in 1989, the study says, while the rate for men rose from about 78 percent to nearly 82 percent.

Women who have graduated from high school have surpassed men in college-enrollment rates. In 1965, 45 percent of female and 57 percent of male high-school graduates enrolled in college, compared with 62 percent of female and 57 percent of male high-school graduates in 1989, according to the study.

But the study says that results from act assessments and the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that women are making only marginal progress in academic preparation for college.

In the 1960's, about 40 blacks between the ages of 25 and 29 earned bachelor's degrees for every 100 whites who did so, the study says. By the mid-1970's, about 50 blacks per 100 whites had attained degrees, but little change took place throughout the 1980's, and, by 1989, the figure was only 51 blacks per 100 whites, according to the study.

Despite modest increases in test scores for blacks reported by act and naep over the past two decades, and near parity in high-school graduation rates between 20- and 21-year-old blacks and whites, blacks have not enrolled in college in increasing rates, the study says.

In 1976, 46 percent of black recent high-school graduates enrolled in college, compared with 49 percent of whites, the study says. In 1983, only 39 percent of blacks enrolled in college; by 1989, the figure was 49 percent, compared with 61 percent of whites, the study says.

Data on Hispanic students is relatively new, but the study says that for every 100 white college graduates in 1974, there were 26 Hispanic college graduates. In 1989, there were 41 Hispanicgraduates for every 100 white ones. And, the study says, the test scores of Hispanic students are increasing at a steady rate.

Nevertheless, the study says that Hispanics lag far behind whites in educational opportunity and attainment. Only about one-half of Mexican-Americans, and 74 percent of other Hispanics between the ages of 18 and 34, had graduated from high school in 1989, compared with 87 percent of whites, the study found.

While high-school graduation rates for 20- and 21-year-old whites have remained at about 85 percent over the past 15 years, the rate for Hispanics has stayed at about 69 percent; it hit a low of 62 percent in 1979 and a high of 76 percent in 1985, according to the study. The rate for Mexican-Americans dropped from 63 percent in 1974 to 51 percent in 1989, it says.

About 17 low-income students, whom Mr. Mortensen contends have not benefited from federal financial-aid programs, earned a bachelor's degree in 1970 for every 100 middle- and upper-income students who graduated, the study says. In 1989, that number stood at 13 per 100 middle- and upper-income students.

Copies of the study, "Equity of Higher Educational Opportunity for Women, Black, Hispanic, and Low Income Students," are available at no charge from the American College Testing Program, Educational and Social Research, P.O. Box 168, Iowa City, Iowa 52243.

Vol. 10, Issue 19, Page 9

Published in Print: January 30, 1991, as Women's College-Enrollment Rate Surpasses Men's
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