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Racial Divide Prevalent in Higher Education, Report Finds

White students in the United States are much more likely to attend a selective college where resources are more plentiful and the likelihood of graduation is higher. Students who are Hispanic or African-American, meanwhile, are mostly enrolling in open-access and community colleges.

This racial gap in higher education is growing and resulting in unequal student success, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce released yesterday.

Since 1995, more than 80 percent of new white enrollments have been at the top 468 colleges, while more than 70 percent of new African-American and Hispanic enrollments have been at the nation's open-access two- and four-year colleges, the report by Georgetown's Anthony Carnevale and Jeff Strohl says. And over-representation of whites at the most elite colleges is increasing, even as the share of college-age students has decreased. The white share of enrollments at open-access institutions dropped from 69 percent to 58 percent from 1995 to 2009.

"The postsecondary system mimics the racial inequality it inherits from the K-12 education system, then magnifies and projects that inequality into the labor market and society at large," the report says. "In theory, the education system is colorblind; but, in fact, it is racially polarized and exacerbates the intergenerational reproduction of white racial privilege."

Where students go choose to go to college is not just a matter of preparation. The Georgetown researchers show that Americans and Hispanics with a high school grade point average higher than 3.5 go to community colleges compared with 22 percent of whites with the same GPA.

For students who test in the top half of the nation's high schools and attend college, 51 percent of white students get a bachelor's degree or higher compared with 34 percent of African-American students and 32 percent of Hispanic students.

Going to a selective college gives students a distinct advantage as these schools spend from two to five times as much on instruction per student as the open-access schools.

The graduation rate for African-Americans and Hispanics who attend one of the top 468 colleges is 73 percent compared with 40 percent for equally qualified minorities who attend open-access institution.

Other research from the Hamilton Project has found that low-income students often aren't aware of the opportunities at elite colleges and can benefit from intentional efforts to inform them about their options, which often include generous scholarships.

Advocates for increasing college-completion rates insist that more attention needs to be paid to minority students if the goal of the United States as the world leader in college graduates is going to be met.

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