Students Are No Longer Surpassing Parents’ Educational Achievement

The American tradition of generational upward mobility is at a standstill, and for some minority groups the younger generation is obtaining postsecondary education at lower levels than older adults, according to a new report released Thursday by the American Council on Education (ACE).

The overall percentage of young adults in their 20s and older adults over 30 with at least an associate degree was almost the same. But lower numbers of Hispanics and Native Americans were earning higher education degrees than their elders. For Hispanics, 18 percent of the older generation held at least an associate degree as compared with only 16 percent of young Hispanics, according to the Minorities in Higher Education 2008 Twenty-third Annual Status Report.

“It appears we are at a tipping point in our nation’s history,” says ACE President Molly Corbett Broad. “One of the core tenants of the American dream is the hope that younger generations, who’ve had greater opportunities for education advancement than their parents and grandparents, will be better off than the generations before them, yet this report shows that aspiration is at serious risk.”

Postsecondary achievement rates for Blacks remained the same between the younger and older generations, at about 24 percent. The two groups whose young people made gains over their elders were Asian Americans and Whites. Sixty-six percent of young Asian Americans holding at least an associate degree while 54 percent of the older generation had achieved the same level.

The generational achievement gap is an issue the presidential candidates should tackle, says Dr. Dolores Fernandez, president of predominantly Hispanic-serving City University of New York (CUNY)-Eugenio Maria de Hostos Community College.

Though the economy was the main issue in this week’s presidential debate, “the fact that the younger generation is attaining less than the older generation is something that should really be ringing bells in this nation. Somebody needs to bring higher education and middle and high school education to the table, and it needs to be addressed in a very serious matter because we’re not paying attention to it like we should,” says Fernandez.

Report analysts found minority enrollment in colleges rose by 50 percent between 1995 and 2005. But despite record numbers of minorities attending college, progress was uneven and gaps widened. “This report demonstrates that educational progress, while significant, is not keeping pace with the changing demographic realities,” says Mikyung Ryu, assistant director in ACE’s Center for Policy Analysis and author of the report.

Gaps in higher education not only exist between different ethnic groups and generations, but also between men and women. Significantly lower numbers of males than females enroll in college. Across racial groups, 36 percent of young men enrolled in college as compared with 44 percent of their female peers. Some colleges are already actively working to encourage more males to enroll, specifically minorities. For instance, the CUNY system has an initiative to increase enrollment rates of minority men, according to Fernandez.

The report also looked at minorities working in higher education and found that though the numbers of minority faculty, administrators and presidents increased over the past decade, the vast majority of these positions are still filled by Whites.

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