The Postsecondary Picture for Minority Students (and Men)

U.S. study offers comprehensive portrait of status of black, Hispanic and other Americans in higher education -- but its most revealing data may be on the college gender gap.
September 13, 2007

The newest report from the National Center for Education Statistics is, as its title ("Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities") suggests, designed to provide a comprehensive look at how members of minority groups are faring in the American educational system, from top to bottom. But while the data it offers on that subject are decidedly mixed -- showing significant progress over time for all groups, but wide gaps remaining in access to and success in college -- the report's most provocative (and potentially troubling) numbers may be about gender, not race.

Most of the data in the report from the Education Department's statistical arm have been released in earlier or narrower reports. But by bringing together reams of statistics over 30 years on the full gamut of educational measures, from pre-primary enrollment of 3- to 5-year-olds to median incomes for adults over 25, the study aims to provide a broad-based look at "the educational progress and challenges that racial and ethnic minorities face in the United States."

Progress and challenges are both evident; virtually every category contains good news and bad news. In the higher education realm, for instance, the report shows that where black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native students made up 17 percent of college undergraduates in 1976, their share of that total had risen to 32 percent by 2004. And each of those groups saw their raw numbers at least double over that time, with some groups showing significantly greater proportional increases, as seen in the table below:

  1976 2004 % Change
Black 943,355 1,918,465 103%
Hispanic 352,893 1,666,859 372%
Asian/Pacific Islander 169,291 949,882 461%
American Indian/Alaska Native 69,729 160,318 130%

Representation in graduate education changed along roughly the same lines, the study finds, with minority group members making up 25 percent of the graduate school population in 2004, up from 11 percent in 1976.

In addition, the proportion of all 18- to 24-year-old Americans who were enrolled in college rose sharply for all racial groups between 1980 and 2004, in most cases increasing by at least 50 percent.

But those positive developments aside, the research shows that members of underrepresented minority groups badly lag their white and Asian peers in college going. By 2004, 60.3 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in college, as were 41.7 of white Americans in that age group. The numbers were lower for other groups: 31.8 for black Americans, 24.7 for Hispanics, and 24.4 percent for American Indian/Alaska Natives.

Similarly, the proportion of degrees awarded to most racial minority groups fell well short of their representation in the population. Slightly less than 10 percent of all college degrees awarded by U.S. degree-granting institutions in 2003-4 -- and 9.3 percent of bachelor's degrees, and 6 percent of doctorates -- went to African-Americans, who make up 12 percent of the population. Hispanics fared worse, earning 7.3 of all degrees, 6.8 percent of baccalaureate degrees, and 3.4 percent of doctorates, despite making up 14 percent of the U.S. populace.

Concerning as those numbers might be to advocates for minority education, the most striking data in the report are probably those related to the educational outcomes of men, of all races and ethnicities.

By virtually every measure used in the report, male students have fallen far behind their female counterparts. That development isn't new, but the federal report lays out the situation starkly. For instance, the study finds that the gender gap in undergraduate enrollments expanded generally and for all races between 1976 and 2004, as seen in the table below:

The Gender Gap in Undergraduate Enrollments, 1976 to 2004

  Proportion of undergraduates
who were male, 1976
Proportion of Undergraduates
Who Were Male, 2004
% Difference Between Female
and Male Enrollment, 2004
All 52.0% 42.9% 14.2%  
White 52.4% 44.1% 11.8%  
Black 45.7% 35.7% 28.6%  
Hispanic 54.3% 41.4% 17.1%  
Asian/Pacific Islander 53.8% 46.2% 7.5%  
American Indian/Alaska Native 49.9% 39.1% 21.8%  

Similarly, the proportion of male 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college in 2004 had fallen to 34.7 percent, compared to 41.2 percent for women. Six to 10 percent gaps existed for all racial groups, too, with the exception of Asian/Pacific Islanders; for them, men were more likely to be enrolled in college by a 63 to 58 percent margin.

Women are also outperforming men as degree recipients, as seen in the table below:

Degrees Conferred by Gender and Race, 2003-4

Demographic Group All degrees
White men 818,690
White women 1,121,646
Black men 87,728
Black women 184,183
Hispanic men 78,775
Hispanic women 122,784
Asian/Pacific Islander men 75,435
Asian/Pacific Islander women 93,335
American Indian/Alaska Native men 8,476
American Indian/Alaska Native women 14,255


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