The impressive gains in graduate-school enrollment by blacks and Latinos during the 1960s and '70s have stalled. Now we face the bleak likelihood that members of the two groups will continue to be sorely underrepresented among the professional ranks in coming years.
A recent study showed that only 5.5% of students attending graduate school in 1981-82 were black. Only 6.6% of the nation's medical students were black, while blacks made up 4.4% of law-school enrollments.
For Latinos the situation was even more dismal. They accounted for 2.2% of all graduate students, 1% of those attending medical school and less than 1% at law schools. I am told that last year in my state of Texas, with almost 3 million Latino citizens, only one Ph.D. was awarded to a Latino graduate student.
In contrast, whites made up 76% of all graduate-school enrollments in 1981-82, and accounted for 90% of those taking classes at law, medical and dental schools.
Most of the remaining slots at graduate and professional schools were taken by Asian-Americans and foreign students, who out-numbered black and Latino classmates by about 30 to 1 in such high-tech programs as mathematics, engineering and physical sciences.
"Black enrollments in graduate and professional schools are actually declining after increases during the 1960s and '70s," says Reginald Wilson, director of the Office of Minority Concerns for the American Council on Education. Although Latino enrollment in graduate schools is up slightly compared to 20 years ago, it has failed to keep pace with the growth of the Latino population.
The Ford Foundation became so concerned with the declining involvement of minorities in graduate programs that it recently announced a $9-million program to provide doctoral fellowships to blacks, Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans and Native Americans.
"Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans constitute more than 20% of the college-age population, but earn less than 8% of doctoral degrees," said Foundation President Franklin Thomas. "Moreover, these minorities hold only 6% of full-time faculty positions. Our goal is to increase the minority presence in the nation's graduate schools--the pools from which colleges and universities draw their faculties."
The Ford Foundation program will boost minority enrollments, and serves as an outstanding model for similar organizations, but foundations alone cannot restore the level of progress made during the previous two decades. For one thing, corporations must take a more active role in supporting minority graduate students with the potential of becoming key employees and inspiring teachers.
The critical issue in combating minority underrepresentation, however, is better preparation of students for the challenges of graduate school. That preparation must begin in elementary and secondary schools. Studies repeatedly show that black and Latino students are not adequately exposed to math and science, and are not encouraged to pursue such preparatory subjects as English and history. Most blacks and Latinos attend urban schools, where the per-pupil expenditure is relatively low, teaching resources are limited and the dropout rate is high.
To compound the problem, young blacks and Latinos can be victimized by standardized tests common in U.S. schools. Often they have not been taught the proper way to take such tests, and have little experience with this type of examination.
Finally, universities must improve their minority-recruitment practices. Sixty percent of the Ph.D.s awarded to blacks in 1981-82 were granted by only 10% of the nation's universities that offered graduate degrees. Nearly one-fourth of the blacks receiving medical degrees attended predominantly black schools. Latino students were heavily concentrated on only 21 college campuses.
Our nation will need at least 500,000 college professors with Ph.D.s in the next 25 years to replace retiring tenured faculty members. If blacks and Latinos are to be fairly represented among them, we must renew our commitment to increasing minority opportunities in higher education. And we must begin now.