Rising Numbers Proportionally Flat
This year’s Top 100 data reveal that while there are more graduates of color, their percentage of the overall graduating pool remains constant
An examination of this year’s Top 100 data reveals encouraging news: people of color continue to strive for social and economic parity through baccalaureate degree attainment.
Though the total number of degree earners continues to rise among people of color, their proportional representation within the number of total degree earners has remained relatively flat with only modest gains over a five-year period. And for African Americans, those percentages have remained about five percentage points behind the proportional representation of this group within the total population.
Analysis of the most recent Department of Education statistics reveals that the past five years have witnessed average annual growth rates in numbers of degree earners ranging from 4.5 percent to 7.5 percent among people of color.
While African Americans are at the lower end of this growth range, their degree attainment gains seem to be a function of something other than a population surge among the traditional college-age cohort.
“[In the 19 years] between 1976 and 1995, the number of African Americans in that population, 18 to 24, has increased by 10 percent,” says Dr. Laura Perna, acting director of the United Negro College Fund’s Frederick D. Patterson Institute. “But over the past decade, [this population segment has] been stable with a 1 percent decline.” This suggests that the recent increase in the number of degree earners is more likely attributable to African Americans’ aggressive pursuit of degrees than it is to any demographic boom.
While Hispanics are at the higher end of the degree surge growth range, it is difficult to get a clear picture of what this really means for underprivileged, non-White Latinos.
Due to possible discrepancies between government categories and those used by reporting institutions, which typically rely on student self-reporting, it is not clear whether the “Hispanic” category used by the Department of Education represents advantaged or disadvantaged students or a mixture of both. For example, UCLA reports Chicano/Mexican American and Latino/Other Spanish which are then combined into federal categories, according to Dr. Victor M. H. Borden, director of information management and institutional research at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
The upward trend in degree attainment by people of color is especially important in light of a report released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) this past November. According to OECD’s Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators report, the U.S. now ranks at the bottom in high school graduation rates among industrialized nations, surpassing only Mexico after being the front runner for decades. Moreover, poor college retention is a worsening problem as U.S. college graduation rates are behind those of many countries despite preeminence in rates of college entry.
“There’s been a perception that the U.S. leads other countries in education and what we found is that the rates in upper secondary education in the U.S. and Canada are beginning to trail other countries in OECD,” says report co-author Thomas Smith of OECD’s statistics and indicators division based in Paris, France. And according to the Journal of College Student Retention, despite the wide availability of higher education resources, and even though approximately 66 percent of high school graduates do go on to attend college, only about 50 percent of those who enter complete a bachelor’s degree within four to six years.
Dr. Alan Seidman, the journal’s editor, and assistant vice president for enrollment services at West Chester University, believes that the problem is not intractable.
“You’ve got to identify them early on, and make [the intervention] powerful enough to effect change, and it must be ongoing,” he says. “If you’re going to admit a student with certain deficiencies, help those students overcome those deficiencies.”
Unfortunately, the higher graduation rates at most historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) do not appear to have resulted from more effective retention programming. The increased degrees awarded are lock step with increased enrollment patterns. In 1976, 42,173 first-time, full-time freshmen enrolled in HBCUs; in 1986, 33,992; and in 1996, 41,444, according to the Patterson Institute. “And so that’s a 2 percent decline over the past 20-year period and a 22 percent increase over the past decade,” Perna says. The matriculation figures for the 1986-96 period are roughly double the graduation figures for the same time period.
Despite their ongoing troubles with retention — a problem that plagues all higher education institutions —- HBCUs continue to make a dramatic contribution to the overall population of Black degree earners. According to Top 100 data, Black institutions award approximately 28 percent of all baccalaureate degrees earned by African Americans, and the actual number of degree recipients has increased at an average rate of 3.6 percent per year for the past five years. Preliminary data for 1996-97 suggests that 25,009 of the 91,532 bachelor’s degrees earned by African Americans were awarded by HBCUs.
Some experts who study the problem of student retention suggest that the average standardized test scores of incoming freshmen predict retention levels within that class. Several of the HBCUs that have consistently ranked highest in awarding African American baccalaureate degrees may be benefiting from programs that make use of this phenomenon.
For the third straight year, Florida A&M University (FAMU) has ranked first in the number of bachelor’s degrees granted to Black students, though this year’s total of 1,215 students represented a drop off by about 1 percent compared to last year’s Top 100 data. Part of the credit for FAMU’s success goes to its “Life Gets Better” scholarship program, an aggressive recruitment program for National Achievement Scholars. Figures from the National Merit Scholarship Corp. show that the number of these NAS scholars at FAMU has hovered around 60 for the past three years.
Howard University, with its 1,118 Black graduates in this year’s data, continues to rank second in the Top 100 schools producing African American graduates, though it dropped about three percentage points within the year,
Still, Howard has increased the number of National Achievement Scholars in its freshman class over the past three years from 43 to 59.
Spelman College also enrolled a significant number of Achievement Scholars last year, 17, though it suffered a dramatic fall in ranking this year from 20 to 42 reflecting a 3.6 percent decline since 1995.
Among the top 10 producers of African American baccalaureate recipients, HBCUs continue to dominate, yet for the second consecutive year, Chicago State University is the top-ranking non-HBCU degree conferrer to African Americans, ranking seventh with 732 graduates. The university’s appearance in the top 10, however, is no surprise since it serves a predominantly African American student population.
Among the other top 10 traditionally White institutions producing African American graduates, CUNY-City College, and Temple University held steady in second and third place positions, producing 600 and 598 Black graduates respectively. There was, however, some shifting in the rankings among the remaining seven institutions. Among the upstarts were two institutions that tied for10th place in last year’s ranking. Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, lept from 10th place, into the number four slot in this year’s ranking, graduating 499 Black students. Carbondale’s leap nudged Georgia State University into fifth position, a spot it now shares with CUNY-York College, which also moved forward from 10th position. Both schools produced 491 Black students.
New among the top 10 are two campuses in the University of Maryland system. UM-University College moved into eighth place, from its ranking as 16th last year, and UM-College Park, snagged 10th place, having moved from 12th place last year. These schools produced 475 and 467 Black graduates, respectively.
There was little shift in the ranking among HBCUs from last year’s report. Behind FAMU and Howard, were North Carolina A&T and Southern University, each maintaining their previous rankings of third and fourth place and producing 945 and 944 Black students, respectively. Grambling State University maintained its previous position of fifth place, producing 805 Black graduates. While Hampton University and Norfolk State traded places, with Hampton moving into sixth position and Norfolk slipping into seventh. They graduated 768 and 690 Black students respectively. Morgan State, with its 662 Black graduates, moved ahead from ninth to eighth place, followed by North Carolina Central University, which crept forward from eleventh place last year, with its 661 Black graduates in this year’s ranking. Jackson State held steady at tenth place, with 658 Black graduates.
And while several HBCUs have experienced some decline in the number of degrees conferred since 1995, notably Hampton (-3.1 percent), Norfolk State (-3.6 percent), Morehouse College (-3.3 percent), Tuskegee University (-5.0) and the University of the District of Columbia (-2.2), others have achieved noteworthy increases: North Carolina Central University, experienced a 12 percent increase; Clark Atlanta University, ranked fourteenth with a 11.5 percent increase; and Texas Southern University, ranked fifteenth with a 13 percent increase in African American degree conferral
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