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More Minorities on US Campuses - 2002-10-06

A new study shows that the number of minority students - African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and others - in American colleges and universities grew by almost fifty percent during the 1990s. But the picture is not as rosy as it may seem.

The American Council on Education, an organization representing some 1,800 institutions of higher education in this country, conducts an annual analysis of minorities in higher education, from high-school graduation rates, to attendance at public and private colleges and universities, to college graduation rates and professorships and doctorates received.

The study analyzes statistics from the United States Department of Education, the Census, the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education and other government sources.

William Harvey, the director of the Council's Office of Minorities in Higher Education, says the group's 19th annual study shows a slow, but steady growth of minority members at American universities and colleges.

"It pointed to us again that we are making small gains as far as the enrollment and graduation of students of color and by those we mean African-American students, Latino and Hispanic students, American-Indian students and students from Asian-American backgrounds, that we are making slight gains in terms of the enrollment and the graduation of those students," he said. "But it also pointed out to us that even though there are increases taking place, that for each of those groups, with the possible exception of Asian Americans, the rate of increase and participation is still below the rate of participation for the students who are white."

The study conducted by the American Council on Education shows that total minority enrollment in institutions of higher education had increased from 2.7 million in 1990 to four million in 1999. The highest gains of almost 70 percent were among Latino students. Asian-Americans followed with an almost 60 percent increase in enrollment, while blacks lagged behind with just over a 30 percent increase.

According to William Harvey, some of the gains are due to the growth of minority population groups in general.

"The entire population is now showing increasing numbers of people, citizens, who are either African-American or Latino because of the age cohorts they are in, those increases are going to continue to increase well into the 21st century," he explains.

However, Mr. Harvey says that although the Hispanic population growth rate has been the highest in the past decade, the enrollment rates for Hispanic students have not grown proportionately. The rate for American-Indians, for example, has grown more in proportion to their general population growth. Mr. Harvey says some of the gains are attributed to schools who are historically devoted to serving Black and Hispanic students.

Most American colleges make efforts to attract minority students. For example, the College of New Jersey, located halfway between the cities of New York and Philadelphia, has increased their non-white student enrollments by more than half in the past decade. Grecia Montero, director of the admissions office, says 19 percent of its college population are now non-whites, but the incoming class this year was almost 24 percent non-white.

"I think, first of all, the College of New Jersey is truly committed to diversity and making a difference," she said. "The diversity does not just happen, you make it happen. We work daily to make it successful."

Grecia Montero says the college actively recruits minority students as well as faculty members. And more importantly, she says, once people enroll, the school helps them complete their studies through various financial and academic aid programs. In addition to that, it helps them find jobs when they graduate.

But it is easier for some schools than for others to attract and retain minority students. The University of New England in the northeastern State of Maine has a very small percentage of non-whites. President Sandra Featherman says although the ratio is growing, the University currently has fewer than ten percent of non-white students.

"There's less than two percent non-white [population] in Maine," she said. "So, we are doing better than the state as a whole, although we are under ten percent, but this is a very hard area in which to attract members of ethnic minority groups."

Ms. Featherman also points out that the school does not have money for scholarships and special programs that would help minority students advance.

The latest report on minorities in higher education also shows that African-American and Hispanic students lag behind white and Asian-American students in graduation rates. A large number of these students drop out of colleges before graduation, either for academic or financial reasons.

William Harvey of the American Council on Education says there is a need for a sustained national effort to improve both the enrollment and graduation rates for minority students in this country.