College attendance increasing in the South: closes in on national average

College attendance rates in southern states more closely resemble those found in the rest of the country, according to a new report on the state of education in the region. But while more Southerners as a whole are attending college than 15 years ago, progress in college attendance for students from different racial and ethnic groups have not kept pace.

According to “Educational Benchmarks, 1996,” an annual report by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), “Large gaps persist…. Although higher percentages of Blacks and Hispanics have attended college today, their college-going rates are about two-thirds that of whites.”

In the fifteen states associated with SREB, 48 percent of adults ages twenty-five through thirty-four had completed at least one year of college in 1993 — up from 41 percent in 1981. Nationally, 51 percent had completed at least one year of college in 1993 — up from 45 percent in 1981.

When broken down by race and ethnicity, 51 percent of white adults, 37 percent of Black adults, and 33 percent of Hispanic adults had attended college for one or more years in SREB states in 1993. While the national numbers are comparable for whites (52 percent), there is a larger discrepancy for people of color (42 percent of Blacks and 30 percent of Hispanics).

As more and more students in the South seek higher education, college preparedness has also improved. A larger percentage of high school students take college preparatory classes and admissions test scores have risen.

In 1990, more than half (54 percent) of high school graduates in the South took an academic core curriculum which included four years of English, and three years each of social studies, science and mathematics. Some 38 percent of the graduates also took at least two years of foreign languages as part of a college preparatory curriculum. In 1982, nearly 90 percent of graduates took a less rigorous academic program, with only 13 percent taking an academic core curriculum and 7 percent completing college preparatory work.

Despite the gains, “SREB states have not matched their progress in providing access to college with similar progress in college completion. Only two SREB states. Maryland and Virginia, out-pace the nation in the percentage of adults with associate’s and higher degrees,” according to the report.

The report noted efforts in Florida and North Carolina to encourage students to pursue degrees within reasonable time frames, as they are more likely to complete them. It also suggests that colleges take other steps to improve completion rates.

“Institutions can improve college completion rates significantly by making sure that when they admit students who are not fully prepared (many of whom are adults returning to college) there are quality remedial programs to bring them up to speed,” the report states. “Many more students might earn bachelor’s degrees if more two- and four-year colleges align similar programs of study to eliminate unnecessary hurdles for students who transfer. And all colleges and universities need policies that encourage students to complete their degrees in a timely (and cost-effective) manner.”

The annual report also found:

As state legislatures and the public focus more on how higher education serves students, colleges are paying more attention to quality;

Between 1984 and 1994, public colleges and universities in the South depended more on tuition and fees (which increased from 22 percent to 30 percent of their budgets) to fund programs and less on state budget support (which slid from 79 percent to 70 percent of their budgets); and

Since 1990, average salaries for four-year college faculty increased by 16 percent and average salaries for two-year college faculty increased by 13 percent since 1990. Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia out-paced national averages in both categories.

The states belonging to SREB are: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

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RELATED ARTICLE: Educational Attainment of the Population Aged 25-34

Percent completing Percent completing at least 1 or 4 or more years of college more years of college United Southern United Southern Year States Region States Region ALL RACES 1981 45% 41% 23% 21% 1985 46 41 24 21 1989 45 42 24 23 1991 45 43 24 22 1993(*) 51 48 24 22 WHITE 1981 46 43 24 23 1985 47 43 25 23 1989 46 44 25 25 1991 46 45 25 24 1993(*) 52 51 25 24 BLACK 1981 34 32 12 13 1985 35 31 14 12 1989 37 33 13 13 1991 34 35 12 12 1993(*) 42 37 13 12 HISPANIC 1981 24 29 9 12 1985 26 28 10 13 1989 28 30 11 14 1991 25 27 10 10 1993(*) 30 33 9 12

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