Washington — The nation’s students of color made significant gains in college enrollment and the number of degrees they earned in recent years, but the gap between them and their white counterparts on all educational levels is glaring, says a report released this month by the American Council on Education (ACE).
While successful affirmative action policies in higher education have played a critical role in fostering those gains, they “remain fragile,” said ACE President Robert H. Atwell. “Affirmative action programs have made a significant contribution to minority advancement, and we must resist the efforts of opponents to dismantle them,” he added.
The continuous educational gap between white students and students of color demonstrates the need to maintain and, in some cases, strengthen affirmative action programs rather than end them, the study says.
Underrepresented on Campus According to the “Fourteenth Annual Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education,” students of color are underrepresented on most campuses. Approximately 23 percent of all 18-to-24-year-old high school graduates are American Indian, Hispanic or African American. However, students from these groups make up only 16 percent of enrollment at all four-year colleges — 12 percent when those attending historically Black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions are excluded from the calculation.
“The numbers [in the report] show that there has been progress,” says Deborah Carter, associate director of ACE’s Office of Minorities in Higher Education and a co-author of the report, “and we have better qualified students” — as evidenced by higher combined Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) scores and high school graduation rates.
The data, said Dr. Reginald Wilson, senior ACE scholar, suggest that affirmative action programs have worked, “but more effort is needed to address the underrepresentation of students of color in higher education.”
The 86-page report includes a special section that reviews the history of legal discrimination in the United States and traces the development of affirmative action from its beginnings as executive orders issued by Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson through the most recent court cases, including Hopwood vs. State of Texas.
Also included in that section are a list of the myths and realities of affirmative action. Support of Policies Urged Nationwide, the number of traditional college-age students decreased slightly between 1993 and 1994. Between 1984 and 1994, the size of this cohort fell by 10 percent, with the numbers of whites declining by 13.6 percent and African Americans by 5 percent. While the number of Hispanic college-age students rose significantly — by nearly 75 percent — during this period, their high school completion rate declined for those ages 18 to 24.
For Hispanics, the completion rate has fluctuated greatly over the past decade, dipping four percentage points to 56.6 percent in 1994. According to ACE, the 1993 rate of nearly 61 percent was the highest posted for Hispanics since the mid-1980s. Recent African-American high school graduates experienced the largest gains in college participation rates among all ethnic groups. The proportion of this group enrolled in college rose by nearly 3 percentage points — to 35.5 percent — between 1993 and 1994, ending a four-year period of stagnation. College enrollment rose by 6.9 percent for Hispanics, 6.8 percent for Asian Americans, 5 percent for American Indians, and only 2.5 percent for African Americans.
The report recommends that college and university presidents emphasize the educational benefits of affirmative action on their campuses. it also urges faculty, administrators and students to educate themselves about the affirmative action I policies and the need to support theme.
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