The Top 100: Interpreting the Data

The Top 100: Interpreting the Data

For the ninth consecutive year, we present to you one of the simplest and most compelling rankings of higher education data: listings of the institutions that confer the most postsecondary degrees to students of color. As with any ranking publication, we have our critics, many of whom bring up valid points about the limitations and potential misuse of such rankings.
Do our lists of quantity downplay important questions about quality? Are we simply interested in the number of new degree-credentialed students of color and not the outcomes and consequences of their educations?
Of course, we are interested in both quantity and quality. At this point in our history, however, degree attainment is the single best standard for educational attainment. And the national data are clear: the higher the degree, the higher the earnings potential. 
In this year’s issue, we focus on 1997-98 academic year degree recipients. Although not a “final release,” the 1997-98 data are virtually complete for the group of institutions that we include in our analysis: Institutions accredited at the college level by an agency or association recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, that operate within the 50 states or the District of Columbia. 
As in past years, this issue focuses  on graduate and professional degrees. A sister publication, Community College Week, will focus on associate’s degrees and one- and two-year certificates. 
The institutions appearing in the published lists are ranked according to the total number of degrees awarded to minority students across all disciplines and in specific disciplines. The lists include a breakdown of 1997-98 graduates by gender. Also included are the final degree counts from the 1996-97 official release.
The final two columns of the lists present two percentages. The “percent of graduates” column indicates how the number of the minority category degree recipients compares to all degree recipients at that institution within that discipline. For example, in the listing of doctorates conferred to African Americans in education, the percent indicates the proportion of all education doctorate degree recipients at that institution who were African American. The ‘percentage change’ column shows the percentage increase in the number of degrees awarded in that category between 1996-97 and 1997-98.

Source of Data

The data for this study come from the U.S. Department of Education. It is collected through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System program-completers survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics. The survey requests data on the number of degrees and other formal awards conferred in academic, vocational and continuing professional education programs.
Institutions report their data according to the Classification of Instructional Program codes developed by the Educational Statistics Center. These CIP codes provide a common set of categories allowing comparisons across all colleges and universities.
   A student’s minority status is typically determined by a self-reported response from the student during his or her college career. Students are offered a set of categories from which to choose. The number and labels of these categories differ from one institution to another.  However, when reporting enrollment or degrees to the federal government, institutions must “map” their categories to the standard federal categories: non-resident alien; Black, non-Hispanic; American Indian or Alaskan Native; Asian or Pacific Islander; Hispanic; White, non-Hispanic; and race/ethnicity unknown. The “minority” categories — Black, non-Hispanic; American Indian or Alaskan Native; Asian or Pacific Islander; and Hispanic — include only U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
Through experiences with either the long or short form of the 2000 U.S. Census, most readers have been exposed to a new method that the federal government is using to collect information on race/ethnicity. However, this method has not yet been implemented as part of these postsecondary surveys.
In future years, students will be able to select any combination of racial/ethnic categories but the single category selection method will be a part of the degree completion data for at least four or five more years.

Structure of Tables
There are 100 institutions on the lists that combine all minority groups and disciplines by degree level. The lists for specific minority groups and for specific disciplines contain as many as 50 institutions each. One exception to this is the listing of Top 100 postgraduate degrees conferred to African Americans by historically Black colleges and universities and traditional White institutions. A given list may have slightly fewer or more institutions because of ties in the rankings. For example, if there are four institutions that fall into the 48th ranked slot, then the list includes all of them, bringing the total number of institutions listed to 52. If, however, 10 institutions are tied in the 48th rank, all are excluded and so the list falls short at 47. A specific list may also be short because only a small number of degrees are conferred to that minority group within that discipline and/or degree level.

Comparing HBCUs and TWIs
From the first years of publishing these data, we noted the significant role that HBCUs play in conferring degrees to African American students. We continue to follow the trend in African American degree conferrals at HBCUs compared to TWIs.  For 1997-98, degree production increased among the HBCUs at each degree level, but especially for post-baccalaureate degrees. Doctoral degrees awarded at HBCUs increased by nearly two-thirds between 1996-97 (155) and 1997-98 (260). HBCU degree production is increasing at all levels at a time when the enrollment capacity of these institutions remains relatively stable. That is, the number of HBCUs has actually declined from 105 to 100 over this time period. At the same time, the number of degrees awarded to African Americans at all other institutions is accelerating at an even greater rate.
Despite this trend, the prominent role of HBCUs is demonstrated in the table that splits the Top 100 institutions into the HBCU and TWI groups.

A Final Word
With this issue, we finish off the first decade of monitoring trends in degrees conferred to students of color. Yes, we’ve only been publishing for nine years, but we’ve now tracked the trend from 1988-89 through 1997-98. In 1988-89, 5.5 percent of all degrees were awarded to African Americans and 12 percent to minorities in general. The U.S. population at this time was approximately 12 percent African American and 24 percent minority. 
Since 1988-89, nearly 1.5 million postsecondary degrees have been awarded to African Americans and nearly 3.5 million to students of color. The number of degrees awarded annually has increased by 80 percent for all minorities, 70 percent for African Americans and only 12 percent for nonminorities.
For 1997-98, the percentage of degrees conferred to African Americans is now 7.5 percent, while the population percentage of African Americans is just slightly higher, still rounding to 12 percent. Minorities in total now comprise just less than 18 percent of the degree recipient population and 28 percent of the U.S. general population. The gap is narrowing, but still looms too large.
Please note that Black Issues is not running the chart on medical degrees conferred to minorities in this edition. Due to a snafu at the American Association of Medical Colleges, where we usually get those numbers, the data is not yet available. We will present those charts in a later edition.      
— Borden is associate vice chancellor for information management & institutional research and an associate professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis.

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