Black College Enrollment in the South Equals Population for First Time

A 52 percent increase in Black enrollment in Southern colleges between 1995 and 2005 means that, for the first time, Black representation in college is equal to their population in the South, according to the Southern Regional Education Board’s annual fact book.

However, the positive news is tempered by the fact that, nationally, the college-going rate for Blacks is lower than that of Whites.

For the first time, the report states, Blacks “represented as high a percentage of college students (21 percent) as the total population (19 percent).”

“There is still a lot of work to be done to keep the progress going, but this is definitely a milestone worth celebrating,” says Joseph Marks, SREB’s director of education data services. He cautions that there is still a lot of work to be done to improve the enrollment and graduate rates of Black students.

A rapidly increasing Hispanic population has played an indirect but significant role in the improved representation of Black students in the South. As the Hispanic population has increased, the proportion of Southerners who are Black has decreased, even though their raw numbers remain static. That smaller overall proportion has made it easier for the Black college representation to catch up.

Reflecting their increased presence in the South, Hispanic enrollment in the region rose 71 percent from 1995 to 2005, to 600,000 students. There are currently 1.1 million Blacks enrolled in college in the South.

Nationally, 43 percent of White students between the ages of 18 and 25 enroll in college, compared to 33 percent of Blacks and 25 percent of Hispanics.

Although the enrollment picture is positive, the graduation rate in the Southern region is another story. According to the SREB Fact Book, 2007, the graduation rate in both the region’s two- and four-year postsecondary institutions were below the national average. Only about 17 percent of two-year students in the South graduate, compared to 22 percent nationally. For four-year students, the graduate rates stand at 52 percent in the South and 54 percent nationally.

Marks says the graduation rate is a regional and national challenge.

According to the fact book, 63 percent of undergraduates in the U.S. in 2004 did not have money to cover the cost of college, even after family contributions, scholarships, grants and other financial aid rewards. Marks says that is one of the major reasons why many students, particularly low-income students and minorities, fail to graduate within six years.

In 2004, Black and Hispanic students accounted for 35 percent of the South’s public high school graduates. SREB predicts that percentage will increase to 44 percent by 2014 and 48 percent by 2018.

The SREB fact book is published every two years, and the 2007 edition was released yesterday at the board’s annual meeting, held on Amelia Island, Fla.

SREB is a nonprofit educational advocacy group overseeing educational institutions in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

– Margaret Kamara

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