Clouded optimism: graduate and professional degree rate among minorities outpaces that of whites, but experts predict surge will end if affirmative action backlash continues – Special Report: Top 100 Graduate & Professional Degree Producers

The numbers of African Americans earning graduate degrees at
American colleges and universities from 1991 to 1995 increased at rates
more than double the general graduate student population.

Particularly noteworthy were the gains of African Americans earning
masters degrees. From 1991 to 1995, the annual average percent increase
was 9.6 percent for African Americans earning master’s degrees compared
to a 4 percent annual average increase for all students.

Other minority groups experienced similar growth rates in students
earning graduate degrees. Between 1991 and 1995 Asian Americans and
Hispanics both had a 9.5 percent annual average increase in earning
master’s degrees; anti Native Americans posted a 8 percent annual
average increase during the same period.

Education experts attribute the impressive growth figures largely to
efforts by universities to recruit and retain minorities at graduate
programs during the 1980s and early 1990s.

“What you see is the result of many years of work,” Dr. Anne Pruitt,
a scholar-in-residence at the Washington, D.C.-based Council of
Graduate Schools, said of minority outreach and retention program
development at the nation’s graduate and professional schools.

Pruitt, who has served as an associate dean at Ohio State
University, noted that during the 1980s the development of mentoring
initiatives, special research and fellowship programs, and other
retention programs helped bring about a more favorable climate at many
campuses for minority graduate and professional students.

The optimistic assessment of minority progress in graduate and
professional education is clouded, however, by the recent setbacks to
affirmative action programs in Texas and California, according to many

“I worry the anti-affirmative action developments here in California
will have a chilling effect on the numbers of Black students enrolling
and earning degrees at the graduate level,” said Dr. Walter Allen, a
UCLA sociologist who has studied African American participation in
American higher education extensively.

In California, the passage of Proposition 209, which has banned the
use of racial preferences in higher education and other public
programs, has already led to a precipitous drop in the admissions of
African American students at California’s public law schools. At the
University of California-Berkeley law school, fourteen Blacks were
accepted in a class of 792, down from seventy-five in 1996, according
to the Washington Post. At UCLA’s law-school, twenty-one Black students
were chosen for this fall’s class – an 80 percent decrease from last

A 1996 ruling by the U.S. Fifth Court of Appeals in Hopwood v. The
State of Texas case prompted Texas officials to abandon the use of race
as a factor in admissions at Texas public colleges and universities.
Admissions of African Americans and Hispanics to University of Texas
law school in Austin for the 1997-98 entering class fell far below
previous year totals. Five African American students – compared with
sixty-five in 1996 – were admitted to this fall’s entering law school

Allen hopes the falling numbers of African Americans and Hispanics
being [TABULAR DATA OMITTED] admitted to law schools in Texas and
California are giving policymakers around the country some pause as
they reconsider affirmative action programs. He fears, however, that
many officials and conservative activists, emboldened by developments
in California and Texas, are working even harder to export
anti-affirmative action initiatives to other states.

What many affirmative action opponents in California have missed in
their zeal to dismantle programs is that California has developed one
of the nation’s best-ranked state systems of higher education with
affirmative action as a core policy, according to Allen. He said he
believes California’s highly rated higher education programs will
suffer as a result of the ban on affirmative action. Minority students
will either seek opportunities out-of-state or at private schools, or
not seek them at all, Allen said.

Five Year Trends in Total Degrees by Race/Ethnicity and Degree Level

Academic Year
1990-91 1991-92 1992-93 1993-94 1994-95

Non-Resident Alien

Master's 37,556 39,570 44,094 46,505 48,152
Doctoral 9,821 10,645 11,434 11,530 11,097
Total 47,377 50,215 55,528 58,035 59,249

African American

Master's 15,818 17,379 18,904 20,892 22,842
Doctoral 1,210 1,201 1,303 1,345 1,615
Total 17,028 18,580 20,207 22,237 24,457

Native American

Master's 1,125 1,221 1,347 1,618 1,531
Doctoral 104 118 105 132 129
Total 1,229 1,339 1,452 1,750 1,660

Asian American

Master's 10,952 12,184 13,182 14,541 15,764
Doctoral 1,451 1,544 1,510 1,937 2,529
Total 12,403 13,728 14,692 16,478 18,293


Master's 8,456 9,043 10,201 11,318 12,175
Doctoral 734 798 802 870 929
Total 9,190 9,841 11,003 12,188 13,104


Master's 247,251 256,926 265,874 273,900 275,841
Doctoral 24,851 25,251 25,830 26,138 26,447
Total 272,102 282,177 291,704 300,038 302,228


Master's 15,772 16,511 16,567 18,611 18,293
Doctoral 1,105 1,037 1,053 1,259 1,447
Total 16,877 17,548 17,620 19,870 19,740

Grand Total

Master's 336,930 352,834 370,169 387,385 394,598
Doctoral 39,276 40,594 42,037 43,211 44,193
Total 376,206 393,428 412,206 430,596 438,791

Source: Black Issues In Higher Education analysis of U.S. Department
of Education data, 1994-95.

“There’s been some cutbacks in public financial aid but the
darkening cloud really comes from the affirmative action changes,” he

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