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Challenges Persist in Educating Increasingly Diverse Population, Says Ed. Dpt. Report

Women and minorities account for much of the growth in the number of degrees awarded over the last decade, but women are still underrepresented in mathematics, physical science, and engineering programs, according to a recent study released by the U.S. Department of Education.

The department’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released its report “The Conditions of Education 2008″ last week, revealing how the nation’s colleges and universities are seeing some of the highest enrollment rates and diverse student bodies ever.

The congressionally mandated report aims to provide an annual portrait of all aspects of U.S. education, from early childhood through postsecondary education and from student achievement to school environment and resources.

“This report allows us to take a big-picture look at the condition of American education,” said NCES Commissioner Mark Schneider in a release. “What we see are improvements, such as higher math and reading scores for 4th- and 8th-graders, and increases in college enrollment. But persistent challenges remain in educating a growing and increasingly diverse population.”

The report found that minority students have accounted for about half of the growth in associate and bachelor’s degrees awarded between 1989-90 and 2003-04. From the 2005-06 academic year, America’s colleges and universities are also awarding more degrees—28 percent more bachelor’s and associate degrees, 46 percent more master’s degrees, and 26 percent more doctorates — than they had a decade earlier.

According to the report, women’s enrollment at undergraduate institutions has risen to 57 percent. They make up over half of the increase in the number of bachelor’s and master’s degrees and 85 percent of the increase in the number of doctorates awarded by higher-education institutions.

The report also found that women are still underrepresented in mathematics, physical science, and engineering programs, and have almost matched men’s enrollment and success in education, psychology and journalism.

For example, from 1990-91, women earned 29.4 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer and information sciences and support services, but that percentage dropped off in 2005-06, when women earned just 20.6 percent of degrees in that field. Women earned nearly 18 percent of bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering and engineering technology in 2005-06, up from 14 percent in 1990-91.

Hispanics have shown the least progress compared to other minorities. According to the report, just 34 percent of the nation’s Hispanic population in the 25-to-29 age bracket had completed some college as of 2007. This compares to the 66 percent of White and 50 percent of Black students in the same age group.

The report noted that Hispanic students now make up 1 in 5 public school students, but they, along with other minority students, often attend impoverished schools. There are also language barriers that pose a risk to Hispanic students’ academic achievement as many students are immigrants for which English is a second language.

“The Conditions of Education 2008” went on to reveal that more Asian-Americans are enrolled in advanced-degree programs today than in the mid-1990s.

The report predicts that overall growth in degree-granting college programs will reach 15.6 million this fall.

The data in the report were obtained from various sources, including state education agencies, local schools, and colleges and universities using surveys and compilations of administrative records.

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