School & District Management

College-Attendance Racial Gap Narrowed in 1990s, Study Says

By Sean Cavanagh — October 02, 2002 3 min read
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The number of minority students seeking two- and four-year college degrees rose during the 1990s, but blacks and Hispanics continue to lag behind white students in finishing high school and enrolling in higher education, a report issued last week says.

The study by the American Council on Education shows that despite their gains in making it to college campuses, those minority students—particularly men— still have much catching up to do when it comes to graduating from those institutions.

See a summary of the report, “Minorities in Higher Education, 2001-2002,” from the American Council on Education.

“We’re very encouraged by some of the new findings, but we still think there are some gaps in access that need to be addressed,” said Michael A. Baer, a senior vice president for the council, a Washington research and advocacy organization representing 1,800 colleges and universities.

Titled “Minorities in Higher Education, 2001-2002,” the annual study, released Sept. 23, used data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, among other sources.

From 1990 to 1999, the number of Hispanics enrolled in higher education rose 68 percent, and the population of African- American students attending college increased by 31.6 percent, the council found.

Overall, enrollment of all students rose by 7 percent during those years, from 13.8 million to 14.7 million students nationwide. White student enrollment fell by 4.3 percent during that decade, though that population still made up 70 percent of total college enrollment.

Blacks and Hispanics also made strides in finishing high school, the study found. Over the past 20 years, blacks between the ages of 18 and 24 boosted their high school completion rates by 6 percent, to 77 percent—though all of that progress was made before 1990, the council found. The rate for Hispanics rose 4 percent, to 59.6 percent.

But a higher number of white students, 82.4 percent, finished high school during that time. And just 39.4 percent of blacks and 36.5 percent of Hispanics between the ages of 18 and 24 participated in college in 2000, compared with more than 43 percent of whites.

“That gap has existed for years,” said John H. Jackson, the national director of education for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “Unless you implement new strategies to help those students, you can’t expect that gap to close.”

Minorities also lagged behind whites students in other areas. In a study of the colleges with the largest athletic programs, 59 percent of whites graduated over a six-year period ending in 2000, compared to only 46 percent of Hispanics and 38 percent of African-Americans. And the study showed a wider gap between graduation rates for black women and men—42 percent to 31 percent— than other races.

School districts could do more to help their minority students’ odds of going to college by making them aware that it was a realistic goal, said Judy Bowers, the guidance coordinator for the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona, and a member of the American School Counselor Association.

College Visits

The Tucson district, which has a population of 61,000 students and is 45 percent Hispanic, has increased opportunities for students at different grade levels to visit two- and four- year campuses. College enrollment has risen over time as a result, Ms. Bowers said.

“It’s amazing how many high school students have never seen a college campus,” said Ms. Bowers.

The ACE also found that among high school graduates, women continue to participate in college at a higher rate than their male counterparts, by a rate of 43.9 percent to 33.8 percent among blacks; 38.6 percent to 34.2 percent among Hispanics, and 45.4 percent to 40.9 percent among whites.

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