Report Predicts Surge in Minority Enrollment by 2015
PRINCETON, N.J. — Minority students are expected to swell the ranks of undergraduates over the next 15 years, pushing enrollments in higher education up by more than 2.6 million students. But while racial or ethnic minorities will represent a dramatic proportion of the new students — as many as 8 in 10 of them — the increase in Black undergraduates will be relatively modest, according to a new report from the Educational Testing Service here.
Released by the nonprofit testing giant last month, Crossing the Great Divide: Can We Achieve Equity When Generation Y Goes To College? predicts that some 16 million students will swamp campuses in 2015, a 19 percent increase over the 13.4 million that attended in 1995.
Some 80 percent of those new students will be African American, Hispanic or Asian American, representing both a rise in the absolute number and percentage of students of color in higher education. Minorities are expected to make up more than 37 percent of college students, up nearly 8 percentage points from 1995.
“Over the next two decades, the rising numbers of minority students pursuing undergraduate degrees offer an unprecedented opportunity to attract qualified minorities to the college ranks,” the report states. “With effective outreach, colleges and universities can remove barriers that still keep qualified minority students from seeking higher education.”
It may be premature, however, for the nation’s colleges and universities to celebrate the gains, according to Dr. Richard A. Fry, a senior economist for the association and one of the report’s authors.
“We need to be careful that the growing numbers of minority students ready for college don’t give us a false sense that we have achieved our diversity goals,” Fry says. Even if all those Black and Hispanic students qualified for college attend in 2015, “Hispanics still will be 550,000 and African Americans 250,000 seats short of a share of college seats equivalent to their share of the [college-age] population.”
Association officials analyzed U.S. Census data of national population growth as well as projections from all 50 states and the District of Columbia on the likelihood of undergraduate attendance by residents. The estimates are based on the large cohort from “Generation Y,” — children of baby-boomers, born between 1982 and 1996, a period when U.S. births climbed above 4 million annually after a 25-year hiatus.
The authors also took into account a rise in the number of immigrants, older students and better-prepared high school students, all of whom are more likely to pursue a college degree.
African Americans, the report says, are expected to increase their ranks by approximately 400,000 and to account for 2.1 million of the nation’s college students in 2015, or about 13 percent, only a slightly greater proportion than currently.
The report further predicts that Hispanics will far surpass Blacks on campus, increasing from 1.4 million students in 1995, to more than 2.4 million over the next 15 years.
That 73-percent increase would make Hispanics the largest college-going minority, accounting for one in six undergraduates, and outnumbering Black students for the first time in 2006, according to the report.
But Asian Americans are expected to become the fastest growing minority, increasing by about 86 percent to 1.3 million of all college students.
While minority students will continue to comprise the majority of students on campuses in the District of Columbia, California and Hawaii, they will account for an even greater proportion of the national student body by 2015.
In New Mexico, where White students account for slightly more than half of enrollment totals, minority students — 43.6 percent of whom will be Hispanic — are predicted to outnumber Whites by 2015.
Most of the additional 1 million Hispanic students expected to boost enrollments by 2015 will arrive on campuses in California, Texas, Florida and New York.
Diversity is expected to increase on both public and private campuses, according to the report. But, aside from Florida, the southern states are not expecting as much diversity in their student bodies as the rest of the country.
Dr. Carol Schneider, president of the Association of Colleges and Universities here, says that increased diversity will have several benefits for institutions of higher education.
“The implications of the ETS projections about the rising levels of diversity on campus go far beyond the anticipated economic benefits, either to individuals or to society,” she says. “In the last analysis, diversity isn’t only about demographics or economics. It’s fundamentally about the future of democracy.”
Two recent reports by the American Council on Education and the American Association of University Professors, both based in Washington, support the claim that diversity benefits students and faculty.
“There are so many strong reasons for encouraging more minority students to pursue higher education,” says ETS Vice President Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale, who wrote the report with Fry. “These numbers make it crystal clear — when more minority students go to college, every person in this nation benefits.”
Those benefits, Carnevale and Fry say, play out in a more productive and prosperous work force and in enhanced competitiveness for U.S. businesses. Within the next five years, 28 percent of the work force will be composed of minorities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“The economic effects of diversity are only now beginning to come into bolder relief,” the report states. “In today’s economy … many businesses strive to incorporate diversity because they believe a more diverse work force can be a competitive advantage. Now such claims are backed up by empirical evidence…that more diverse work teams produce ideas and solutions that are more creative and of higher quality overall than homogenous groups.”
Yet, tuition increases or changes in the labor market could limit the number of qualified high school graduates who opt for college, thereby limiting the ETS projections. And despite the surge in minority enrollments, “the playing field still will not be level in 2015.”
The educational gap between White and minority students will persist into 2015, the report states, as the share of 18- to 24-year-old Black and Hispanic graduates continues to be smaller than the proportions they represent in the same age group in the overall U.S. population.
“The fact that so many more minority students are opting for college is great news and underscores minority families’ dedication to educating their children,” says Sonia Hernandez, deputy superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the California Department of Education.
But she says she is concerned that colleges may not be able to accommodate the influx of students, or that the students will not be able to afford a quality education.
“Already, federal student aid has been persistently shifting away from low-income to middle-income students,” she says. “Due to financial constraints, even if these students manage to go to college, they may be forced to attend colleges that are less selective.”
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