Interpreting the Data
By Victor M.H. Borden and Pamela C. Brown
Joy, uncertainty, sadness and feelings of accomplishment are just a few of the things graduates feel when walking across the stage to accept their diploma. They join a long line of predecessors who have sweated and cried over term papers, quizzes, final exams and for some, state and national boards. At the graduate and professional level, these feelings are also mixed with the prestige of being among a group of elites, particularly for minority students. After all, the requirements to get into graduate school are more stringent than those at the undergraduate level. And the recruitment methods and support programs in place for undergraduates do not often exist at the graduate level. Underrepresented students who defy the odds, not just once, but in some cases, two and three times, truly have made a huge step towards closing the graduate program participation and completion gap.
But closing that gap has become more difficult in recent years.
As anti-affirmative action sentiment continues to grow, graduate programs seem to be the first target. Although there is a consensus that diversity is essential for universities, there is disagreement as to how far universities should go to promote access and persistence among students of color. Yet we know graduate students have the same needs as undergraduates: They want to feel a sense of belonging to their institution and to see faculty and administrators who look like them. Without specific recruitment and support programs, their concerns fall on deaf ears. Given the low levels of minority participation within graduate programs, current political trends do not bode well for expanding the ranks of the minority professoriate. This can negatively impact the representation of individuals of color within higher education, K-12, medical fields, the business world and in the political arena.
In this edition of the Top 100 Graduate Degree Producers, we take note of the institutions that are conferring the largest number of graduate-level certifications to minority students. We do so within the context of overall trends so as to monitor progress, or lack thereof, in the representation of minorities among the most highly educated members of the populace. As in prior years, we also consider the distribution of degrees across degree levels and disciplinary areas. We believe it is important to consider not only overall representation, but also the representation across the spectrum of disciplines and professions.
Data Sources and Caveats
Data provided by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) allows us to look at the top 100 institutions that awarded graduate degrees during the 2005-2006 academic year. Although the information is not a “final release,” it is complete and accurate for those institutions that are part of the analysis. When considering which universities to include, we only take into account those institutions eligible for Title IV funding that are located in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
NCES collects the data through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Program Completer’s Survey. Institutions provide information about the number of degrees and other formal awards conferred in academic, vocational and continuing professional education programs using the Classification of Instructional Program (CIP) Codes. Using these codes provides a common set of categories, from which comparisons can be made across all colleges and universities.
Institutions use a standard set of federal categories to report student race/ethnicity: non-resident alien (i.e., not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident); Black; American Indian or Alaskan Native; Asian or Pacific Islander; Hispanic; White; and race/ethnicity unknown. Only U.S. citizens or permanent residents are included in the “minority” categories. Students select one of these categories during their college career. Until the federal government finalizes their changes to the current rules for race/ethnicity reporting, the single category selection method will continue to characterize the degree completion data.
The institutions appearing in the lists are ranked according to the total number of degrees awarded to minority students, both across all disciplines and within specific disciplines. The lists include a breakdown of 2005-2006 graduates by gender. The final two columns of the lists show two percentages; the first indicates how the number of minority degree recipients in a given discipline compares to the total number of recipients at that institution in that discipline. For example, in the listing of baccalaureates conferred to African-Americans in business and management, the percent indicates the proportion of all business and management baccalaureate degree recipients at that institution who were African-American. The second column indicates the percentage change in that minority groups’ number of graduates at that institution and discipline from the prior year (2004-2005).
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. 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.
There has been a steady increase in the number of master’s, doctoral and first professional degrees awarded to students of color over the past 10 years. The trends among White U.S. citizens or permanent residents and among non-U.S. citizens have been less consistent, but recent increases have been greater among these non-minority groups. Highest among all trends is the rate of increase in doctoral degrees awarded to non-U.S. citizens over the past four years, as shown in the accompanying charts.
Each trend chart shows the overall trend comparing total minority, White and non-U.S. citizens as well as a breakout for the four minority groups included within the federal taxonomy.
Blacks receive a larger number of master’s degrees than do Hispanic and Asian American students, in proportion to their larger representation among the population. However, more Asian American students receive first professional degrees and about as many Asian American and Black students receive doctoral degrees despite the differences in their population representation.
Although there is a significant representation gap for Blacks and Hispanics among doctoral degree recipients, the trend is positive, especially for Blacks. The trends are also positive for first professional and master’s degree conferrals (especially for master’s degrees awarded to Black students) but the increases do not outpace non-minority conferrals enough to produce significant declines in the representation gap.
Most Popular Fields of Study
Display 2 shows the five most popular disciplinary areas in which master’s, doctoral and first professional degrees were conferred in 2005-2006 among the four minority groups, non-U.S. citizens and Whites. These fields are generally similar across the groups, with some slight variations in order.
For example, business and education are the top two disciplines for master’s degrees, with education ranking first for Hispanic, American Indian and White students while business is first for Blacks, Asian Americans and non-U.S. citizens. Among the master’s degree disciplines, engineering and computer science appear in the Top 5 for Asian Americans and non-U.S. citizens but not for any of the others.
There is more variation in the order and composition among doctoral degree fields than among master’s degrees. For example, education is first on the list for Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians, and second for Whites, but does not appear among the Top 5 for Asian Americans or non-U.S. citizens. As with the master’s degrees, the Asian American and non-U.S. citizen lists feature STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), whereas biological and life sciences is the only STEM field on the list for other minority groups (with Whites also having physical sciences in 5th place).
First professional degrees, which are professional doctoral degrees that are required for licensing for certain fields, are offered in only three disciplinary areas: law, health and divinity. Here again the Asian American and non-U.S. citizen groups differ from the others by placing the health fields on top while the others feature law degrees first.
The online edition of this analysis provides more granular detail of the disciplinary preferences. Specifically, it provides the ordered numerical popularity (as featured in Display 2) for all disciplinary areas, including the number of degrees conferred. Also featured online are two other views of disciplinary preferences: the ordering of disciplinary areas according to largest numerical change in degrees conferred between 1995-1996 and 2005-2006; and the ordering for the largest percentage change in degrees conferred over this same 10-year period. These latter lists, and especially the percentage change list, include some interesting findings. For example, the two fastest growing disciplinary areas across all groups combined for master’s degree conferrals are parks, recreation, & leisure studies and protective services. However, for Blacks, the largest percentage change, albeit for a small numerical category, is in communication technologies, showing a 294 percent increase — from 18 to 71 degrees conferred. As another startling example, the fastest growing disciplinary area in master’s degrees conferred to American Indians is philosophy and religion, which showed a 450 percent increase — from 2 to 11 degrees conferred. Obviously, one must be cautious about the absolute numbers when examining percentage changes.
Minority and majority group differences in degrees conferred across disciplines are intriguing. To what extent do these differences reflect the diversity among cultures and subcultures that enrich our pluralistic society? To what extent do the differences reflect inequities in access to realms of power and practice that perpetuate less desirable participation gaps? Although the descriptive analysis provided in this article cannot provide much insight into this thorny issue, we hope that it helps bring into sharp relief the importance of these questions.
— Dr. Victor M. H. Borden is associate vice president and associate professor at Indiana University; Pamela C. Brown is associate director of enrollment services at Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com