Minority Gains and Gaps

Non-white enrollments continue to grow in higher education, but annual data also point to lingering problems in college pipeline.
October 30, 2006

Minority enrollment at colleges and universities rose by just over 50 percent, to 4.7 million students, between 1993 and 2003, according to the American Council on Education.

The council is today releasing its annual report on the status of minority groups in higher education -- a compilation of the most recent data published by the Education Department and other agencies, along with data gathered by the association. As is usually the case, an optimist could find plenty of signs of progress -- this year with gains in college enrollment rates, graduation in key programs, and graduate degree attainment, among other categories.

A pessimist could note the many gaps between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian counterparts. In particular, figures for black and Latino males remain far behind not only white and Asian men but also behind black and Hispanic women.

"I think this report speaks to the work that's yet to be done," said James C. Renick, senior vice president for programs and research at the council and former chancellor of North Carolina A&T State University. With Michigan voters about to consider a proposal to bar affirmative action at public colleges and universities, he said that the data show the need for continued efforts to diversify higher education.

"I think some people are looking for very simple answers to very complicated problems," he said.

Generally, the report documents gaps that start with high school completion rates and extend through graduate school. Renick stressed the importance of working on educational inequities at all levels -- without progress in high schools, the pool for college is limited, and so on throughout the pipeline.

Both black and Hispanic high school completion rates increased in the last decade, the report found. The completion rate for black people aged 18 to 24 increased to 77.8 percent from 75.6 percent. For Hispanics, the increase was to 64.4 percent, from 56.6 percent.

The report contains evidence that the gender gap in college enrollments -- which has been present generally in higher education, but especially among black students -- may become a key factor in recruiting Latino students. Much of the gain in Hispanic high school completion rates in the last decade was by women. Hispanic women now have a high school completion rate of 70.1 percent, while the rate for men is 59.1 percent. (During the same decade, white high school completion rates increased by two percentage points, to 87.6 percent).

Among the highlights of the new report:

  • Hispanic and Native American enrollments increased faster at four-year institutions than at two-year institutions, which have historically been a key sector for their enrollment. In the 10-year period covered by the report, American Indian enrollment increased by 39 percent, while enrollment at four-year institutions was up by 50 percent. (At the same time, the number of minority students earning associate degrees nearly doubled.)
  • For both white and minority students, the fastest growth in degrees attained was at the master's level. From 1993-4 to 2003-4, master's degrees awarded to white students increased by 21.5 percent while those awarded to minority students increased by 105.7 percent.
  • Minority enrollments and degrees showed significant increases in a number of science and business fields.
  • As has been the case in recent years, more students are not selecting a box from the choices for recial or ethnic group.

The ACE report extends to the college presidency, where it finds that most presidential positions continue to be held by white men. The last five years, however, have seen significant diversification, particularly among women of all ethic groups. Community colleges are also significantly more diverse at the presidential level. These data come from ACE's database of presidents. (Note: The figures do include women's and historically black or minority-serving institutions.)

Presidents by Gender, Race and Ethnicity, 2005

Group Number of Presidents, 4-Year Institutions % Change, 2000-5 Number  of Presidents, 2-Year Institutions % Change, 2000-5
White men 1,441 +10.2% 700 +3.6%
White women 322 +9.9% 253 +18.2%
Black men 104 +15.6% 40 -2.4%
Black women 37 +54.2% 30 +50.0%
Hispanic men 33 +10% 33 -8.3%
Hispanic women 9 +125% 15 +66.7%
Asian American men 29 +11.5% 7 +133.3%
Asian American women 5 +0% 4 +33.3%
American Indian men 6 +20.0% 10 +0%
American Indian women 2 +0% 6 +20%

The full ACE report is not available online, but may be purchased from the council through its Web site.


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