Modest Gains in Enrollment, Says New ACE Report
WASHINGTON — Minority students continued to make modest enrollment gains on the nation’s college campuses in 1997, according to a report released last month by the American Council on Education here.
The college-going rate of minority students rose by 3.7 percent between 1996 and 1997, slightly higher than the 3.2 percent increase in 1995. The African American student college-going rate increased by 4 percentage points to 39.8 percent, while Hispanic students’ college participation rate edged up one percentage point to 36 percent.
Despite the increases however, African Americans continued to trail White students’ college attendance rate. In 1997, White students recorded their highest college participation rate ever: 45.3 percent, according to the Seventeenth Annual Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education.
The report’s authors were optimistic about the gains noting that these enrollment increases occurred after the affirmative action rollbacks in California and Texas.
“Students of color recognize that a college education is important,” to gaining a foothold in today’s rapidly changing economy, says Dr. Deborah Wilds, deputy director of the council’s Office of Minorities in Higher Education. “In spite of the rollbacks in affirmative action, colleges are doing more outreach to get minority students to enroll.”
“Substantial progress is being made but much remains to be done,” says Dr. Stanley O. Ikenberry, president of the council. “Ensuring broad access to high quality higher education for all the nation’s citizens must remain a priority.”
Minority students continue to earn an increasing number of degrees, but despite the gains, students of color remain underrepresented at every degree level. The proportion of bachelor’s awarded to students of color increased from 12.1 percent in 1987 to 19.8 percent in 1997, while the percentage of first-professional degrees awarded to these students rose by 11.2 percent to 21 percent during the 10-year period.
African Americans experienced small to moderate increases in all degree categories between 1996-97, ranging from a 3.2 percent increase at the bachelor’s level to a 10.2 percent increase at the master’s level. While African Americans represent 11 percent of all undergraduate degrees, they earned only 8 percent of all bachelor’s awarded in 1997.
Minority students are also graduating in larger numbers. According to statistics from Division I institutions, the graduation rate for African American students increased from 38 percent to 40 percent between 1996 and 1997. Among all ethnic groups, Asian Americans had the highest graduation rate — 65 percent at Division I institutions in 1997. Hispanics posted a 45 percent graduation rate — nearly the same level recorded during the past five years, while the rate for American Indians dipped one percentage point to 36 percent.
Since 1992, the graduation rate for African American students has increased by 6 percent — the largest increase among the four ethnic groups.
The gender gap among students of color continued to increase over the two-year period. Women of color earned more associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees than men of color in 1996-97. The largest gains by women of color were 8.5 percent at the master’s level and 9 percent at the associate level.
But the good news about minority college enrollment was offset by a decline in the high-school graduation rate. In 1997, the high school completion rate for African Americans aged 18-24 declined for the third straight year to 74.7 percent, a decrease of more than 2 percentage points since 1990.
Wilds says the decline may be because of new state requirements for high-school exit exams, but that was speculation because the data from individual states was not yet available.
This is the last year Wilds will be writing the influential report card on minorities in higher education. Wilds, who has written or co-authored the report for the past 12 years, left the organization last month to become a program officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (see Black Issues Feb. 17)
Mindful of the acrimonious national debate on the merits of affirmative action, this year’s status report contained a special section on the benefits of racial and ethnic diversity. The section’s authors point to research that concludes that having a multicultural student body benefits students, university and society.
Dr. Jeffrey F. Milem, assistant professor of education at the University of Maryland College Park, and Dr. Kenji Hakuta, professor at Stanford University’s School of Education, wrote the diversity report.
“The future wealth, health, and climate of our nation depends on increased, not diminished opportunities for diverse interactions for our students,” Milem says.
The status report provides data on high school completion, college participation and educational attainment of Whites, African Americans and Hispanics. Similar data on Asian American and American Indians are not available.
The report does present statistical information on enrollment and graduate rates for all four major ethnic minority groups. It is based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other sources.
The Seventeenth Annual Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education is available for $24.95 plus $3.50 shipping and handling, prepaid from the Publications Department, American Council on Education, P.O. Box 191, Washington, DC 20055-0191 or call (301) 604-9073.
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