College & Workforce Readiness

Report: Minority College Enrollment Growing

By Vaishali Honawar — February 23, 2005 3 min read
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Black and Hispanic students are enrolling in college at higher rates since 1991, but they have failed to catch up with the proportion of white students pursuing higher education, according to a report released last week.

The report from the American Council on Education, a Washington-based umbrella group for higher education, says the number of African-Americans enrolled as undergraduates increased by 36 percent, to nearly 1.8 million, from 1991 to 2001, the most recent year for which federal data were available. Hispanic enrollment had the highest rate of growth in the period, up just over 75 percent. Asian-American enrollment increased by 54 percent in the decade, while American Indian enrollment grew by 35 percent.

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The report also looks at participation rates, which are calculated by dividing the number of individuals in a racial or ethnic group who are enrolled in college with the total number in that group.

For 18- to 24-year-old African-Americans, the college-participation rate grew from 32.7 percent in the early 1990s to 40 percent a decade later. The rate for Hispanics in that age group hovered around 34 percent over the decade, while the participation rate for whites increased from just over 41 percent to 45.5 percent.

ACE President David Ward said the report showed the glass was “half empty and half full.”

“Diversifying our colleges continues to be a key issue for our society, and we ought to respond to the challenges in a way that is strategic,” he said at a Feb. 14 news conference at the council’s annual meeting here. The country needs more concrete and better-financed solutions to improve minority-enrollment rates, he said.

The report uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

One of the report’s authors said the degree of progress for minorities in higher education, while encouraging, “is less than what we’d like to see.”

William B. Harvey, the director of the Center for the Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Equity at the ACE, said eliminating the enrollment gap is important “for the long-term economic and social well-being of this country.”

“Minorities in Higher Education 2003-2004: Twenty-first Annual Status Report” is available for purchase from the American Council on Education.

The report also shows a growing gender gap in college-participation rates over the decade. In the early 1990s, the college participation rates for the genders were nearly identical—40.9 percent for men, 40.6 percent for women. But by a decade later, the participation rate for men had increased by only 1 percentage point, while for women of that age group it had increased by 5.5 percentage points.

William E. Kirwan, the chancellor of the University System of Maryland, noted that the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to blacks and Hispanics had doubled over the decade.

“But as long as there is a gap in … participation rates, it is our responsibility to see them closed,” he said. He added that the ACE report serves as a “wake-up call in that a lot of work remains to be done.”

Changing Federal Role

Higher education officials used the report’s release to stress the importance of federal programs that help low-income students.

Augusta Kappner, the president of the Bank Street College of Education in New York City, said the report shows the continued need for financing programs that prepare disadvantaged students for college, such as Upward Bound, Talent Search, and GEAR UP. President Bush’s proposed budget for fiscal 2006 puts all three on the chopping block. (“Spellings Backs Accountability in Higher Education,” this issue.)

Describing high school as the “pipeline to college,” Ms. Kappner said those programs “have been in place to keep the pipeline flowing and to ensure high school students have better access to college.”

She added that the higher education community needs to be involved in pursuing changes at the high school level to make it easier for students to make the transition to postsecondary education.

The ACE’s 21st annual “Minorities in Higher Education” report also says that the number of minority full-time faculty members at higher education institutions jumped 40 percent, from 65,000 in 1993 to some 90,000 in 2001.

For the first time, the report includes data on the number of college students who elect not to report their race. The number of such students doubled from approximately 468,000 in 1991 to more than 938,000 in 2001.

“The increasing size of the unknown race/ethnicity population makes these data important in discussing the changing demographics of American higher education,” the report says.

A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2005 edition of Education Week as Report: Minority College Enrollment Growing

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