Equity & Diversity

Big Boost in College Degrees to Blacks Reported

By Jessica L. Sandham — March 05, 1997 3 min read
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More than ever before, African-Americans are entering college and succeeding, reports a book released last week that examines the enrollment and achievement patterns of blacks in higher education programs over the past two decades.

The number of blacks awarded bachelor’s degrees increased by 40.2 percent from 1976 to 1994, compared with a nationwide increase of only 27.2 percent for the same period, according to The Status of Education in Black America. The book is the first of three volumes with in-depth statistical analyses about blacks in American education to be released by the Frederick D. Patterson Institute, a research branch of the Fairfax, Va.-based United Negro College Fund.

The two other volumes, scheduled for release later this year, will include data on K-12 education and the school-to-work transition.

“The numbers do explode a lot of the previously held myths about black education,” William H. Gray III, the president and chief executive officer of the UNCF, said at a press conference here last week. “Look at the numbers, both good and bad, and let them speak for themselves.”

Many of the overall gains made by African-Americans can be attributed to black women, who are twice as likely to obtain baccalaureate and master’s degrees as are black men, the study notes.

There was also an explosive 219 percent increase in the number of black women awarded professional degrees from 1976 to 1994, according to the book.

Disparities Continue

Though many of the data are encouraging, the book’s statistics also show where disparities remain. While African-Americans represented 14.3 of the college-age population, they accounted for only 10.1 percent of the nation’s college students in 1994. Underrepresentation is greatest at competitive research universities and the most expensive four-year colleges, the researchers found.

In addition, although more blacks are taking tests required for admission to graduate and professional schools, their scores are still significantly lower than those of their white peers.

The data, however, also reveal that African-Americans often face greater obstacles in their pursuit of a college degree--many of them financial. Half of all the black degree recipients who depended on their families for financial support in 1994 came from families with incomes below $40,000 a year. Only 24.2 percent of white students faced similar circumstances.

Compared with whites, more blacks also entered college with lower grade-point averages, lower standardized-test scores, and lower levels of parental education.

“Against these odds, African-American students continue to value a college education and prove themselves competitive by going on to achieve advanced degrees,” Mr. Gray said.

Mr. Gray said that he hopes the book will help future policymakers and educators pinpoint the areas where blacks face the greatest challenges so that more progress can be made.

During the past seven months, researchers at the Patterson Institute gathered the information for the book from more than 40 national databases, including those compiled by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the New York City-based College Board, which sponsors the SAT, and the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, N.J., which administers the widely used college-entrance exam.

“Nothing is more valuable for making good public policy than having good information,” Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said at the press conference. “This book is a wonderful, new resource that can help us shape more effective policies for African-Americans in higher education.”

For More Information:

Copies of The Status of Education in Black America, Volume I: Higher and Adult Education are available for $25 each, plus $3.25 shipping, from the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, 8260 Willow Oaks Corporate Drive, P.O. Box 10444, Fairfax, Va. 22031-4511; (800) 332-UNCF, ext. 2000; fax:(703) 205-2012. Information is also available on the World Wide Web at http://www.patterson-uncf.org.

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