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Minority College Enrollment Still Lags

Education: Gains have been made, but attendance and graduation rates are higher for whites.


More blacks, Latinos and Native Americans are entering and completing college than ever before, but not in numbers that match their percentage of the general population, according to a new study by the American Council on Education.

The study, the 14th Annual Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education, found that minority students have made significant gains in college enrollment and the number of degrees they earned in recent years. Nevertheless, the study found, minorities still trail whites significantly in overall college attendance and in graduation rates.

"By most measures, we have seen substantial progress in recent years toward the goal of equitable minority participation and success in higher education," said education council President Robert H. Atwell. "However, these gains remain fragile."


Atwell and others see a broader message in the study findings, which span the years 1974 to 1994: Affirmative action in higher education--now under fire in the courtroom and at the ballot box--is still needed and must be protected.

Affirmative action programs have made a significant contribution to minority advancement, Atwell said, and dismantling them would likely slow the movement of minorities into higher education.

Many college presidents agree.

"The ACE report refutes one common objection to the inclusion and opportunity strategies collectively known as affirmative action--that the need for them no longer exists," said San Francisco State University President Robert A. Corrigan.

The study found that the number of minorities attending colleges and universities rose 4.9% between 1993 and 1994, while total education enrollment declined slightly, due primarily to a 1.7% drop in white enrollment.

Between 1990 and 1994, the number of minority students enrolled in institutions of higher learning rose 25.9%.

In addition, minority students made progress in degree attainment at all levels. The rise was led by a 13.9% surge from 1992 to 1993 in the number of professional graduate degrees earned by minorities.


The report found, however, that with the exception of Asian Americans, minority students remain underrepresented on college campuses.

About 23% of all 18- to 24-year-old high school graduates in the country are American Indian, Latino or African American. But students from those groups make up only 16% of enrollment at all four-year colleges, and that number drops to 12% when those attending institutions that historically cater to blacks and Latinos are excluded from the calculation.

Those numbers have remained low despite the fact that high schools are graduating more and better-prepared black and Latino students than ever before, the report said.

"Minority participation rates have remained low . . . despite a larger pool of minority high school students who are better prepared academically," according to the report. "These data suggest that additional affirmative action efforts are needed to address [their] continued underrepresentation . . . in higher education."

High school completion rates increased moderately for African American students in 1994--to 77%, from 74.9% in 1993. The proportion of black students who went on to college rose nearly 3%--to 35.5%--between 1993 and 1994.


Latinos did not fare as well in high school graduation and college enrollment, but did post the largest increase among all minority groups in the number of degrees earned.

The report found that between 1993 and 1994, high school completion rates declined for Latinos, dipping four points to 56.6%. The percentage of Latinos going on to college dropped by more than 2%, to 33.2%.

In examining the number of degrees conferred on minorities, the report found overall increases between 1992 and 1993 (the latest year for which data is available).

In 1993, minorities earned 8.6% more associate degrees, 9.3% more bachelor's degrees, 10.4% more master's degrees and 13.9% more professional degrees.

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