Degree-Producer Analysis Offers Gppd & Bad News
WASHINGTON —The number of African American students earning college degrees continues to increase at all categories of institutions, according to Black Issues in Higher Education’s annual survey of the Top 100 degree producers.
Going by the preliminary figures for 1997-‘98, the number of bachelor’s degrees earned by African American students increased by 4.3 percent from 1996- ‘97, while the number of associate’s degrees increased by 2.1 percent during the same time period.
“The number of minority students is growing,” says Jacqueline Woods, public liaison for community colleges at the U.S. Department of Education. “More and more of them are realizing that a postsecondary education is a key to a good job now and in the future.”
African Americans were not the only minority group to post gains in earning college degrees according to the survey. Over that same year, American Indians — who traditionally have had very low rates of participation in higher education — have increased the number of earned bachelor’s by 7.1 percent to a preliminary count of 7,694 in 1997-‘98. The number of bachelor’s earned by Asian Americans also soared, climbing 5.1 percent to 69,487.
Education observers are worried however, by a decrease in the number of bachelor’s earned by Hispanic students. According to preliminary figures, Hispanic students earned 59,540 degrees in 1996-‘97 and only 54,626 in 1997- ‘98. The decline is especially worrisome given that Hispanic students represent the fastest growing segment of the nation’s population.
But while scholars are pleased that minority students continue to earn an increasing number of degrees, they caution that students of color remain under-represented at every degree level. For instance, while the percentage of degrees earned by African Americans is now 7.5 percent, Blacks represent 12 percent of the nation’s population. Moreover, while majority institutions are making some progress in graduating more African-American students, historically Black colleges and universities continue to graduate the lion’s share of these students. Eight out of the top 10 institutions on the list of African American baccalaureate degree-producers are HBCUs, as are 15 of the top 20.
“We celebrate the gains, but we still have a long way to go,” says Dr. Walter R. Allen, professor of education at the University of California-Los Angeles. “We made impressive gains in the late ’60s and since then we’ve been in these cyclical patterns where we’ve made some gain followed by losses. We’ve got to figure out some strategies to make these gains permanent.”
But educators say many of the tools to increase college-going rates are being removed. They say court cases and voter initiatives mean that many states like California and Washington can no longer use race as a factor in admissions, and high-stakes standardized testing may keep many minority students from gaining access to college.
National experts also say many colleges do not have programs or support services in place for African American students who came from school districts that did not prepare them for the rigors of college academics. “State policies and other actions that limit access are causing African American students to return to our institutions at a higher rate than ever before,” says Dr. Delores Cross, president of Morris Brown College in Atlanta. “Believe me, we welcome them to our schools with open arms and are concerned about their success. For many of us, our mission remains the same, but we cannot ignore how the clock is carefully turning backward instead of forward and our students are being turned away from majority schools because, to them, access is a dirty word.”
Other critics say the successes of HBCUs are threatened by decades of underfunding and state plans to desegregate their public universities by opening new campuses offering programs that duplicate those at Black institutions.
“We must absolutely insure the future of HBCUs,” Allen says. “Many would like to pretend that Black students would automatically move from the HBCUs to majority institutions. But the fact is, if we take away the HBCUs, many Black students would lose the opportunity to attend college. Black institutions still account for a disproportionate number of degrees earned by Black students.”
Educators predict that as more minority students enter college, administrators will have to make changes to accommodate them.
“They are not traditional students,” Woods says. “They have a lot of needs that colleges haven’t had to deal with. The mission of higher education is going to have to change because of the needs of students of color. Their ability to succeed will be based on how higher education meets their needs.”
In fact, as the number of minority students who attend college increases, the institutions attracting them are the ones that offer year-round classes, which allow students to graduate faster, says Dr. John Lee, president of JBL Associates, a higher education consulting firm in Bethesda, Md.
“Many of these schools are proprietary schools and community colleges that recognize that students are working and going to school and they want to be able to get a better job very quickly,” he says.
Along with speed, practicality also is a factor. This year marks the first time BI has published the most popular bachelor’s degrees earned by all students. A business degree is the number one choice of today’s pragmatic college graduates. In fact, the major tops the list among every ethnic group, outpacing the degrees earned in the second and third most popular majors combined, social sciences and history/education.
Another first is the listing of which Carnegie Class of institutions awarded the most bachelor’s degrees to students. Master’s I institutions came up on top — with no close contenders — awarding the most bachelor’s degrees to African American, American Indian and Hispanic students. Research I institutions awarded the most bachelor’s degrees to Asian American students.
Florida A&M University ranks first in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to Black students for the fourth year in a row, though this year’s total of 1,201 graduates represents a drop of 1.2 percent compared to last year’s total.
The leading non-HBCU institution to confer degrees to African Americans was Chicago State University for the second year in a row. The university increased its total number of African American graduates by 2 percent to 747 graduates.
Several HBCUs saw their number of graduates increase in 1997-‘98 after two years of decreases, including Howard University, up 5.8 percent; Hampton University, 3.8 percent; Norfolk State, up 4.1 percent; Grambling, up 3.6 percent and Xavier University, up 11 percent. Still others continued to post decreases in graduates: Tuskegee University dropped by 4.8 percent and the University of the District of Columbia by 2.9 percent.
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