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Georgetown Report Examines Race in Higher Ed

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August 15, 2013

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Georgetown Report Examines Race in Higher Ed

Racial stratification in higher education is explored in a recent Georgetown University report, which examines enrollments by race and ethnicity at U.S. postsecondary institutions. The publication brings attention to important issues of access and equality, while also prompting questions about the value and purpose of different postsecondary institutions.

The publication analyzes enrollment trends at about 4,400 postsecondary institutions by race and institutional selectivity from 1995-2009. According to authors Anthony P. Carnevale and Jeff Strohl, the good news is that postsecondary enrollments of African-American and Hispanic students have increased markedly. But they lament that 72 percent of Hispanic student enrollment and 68 percent of African-American student enrollment has been at two- and four-year open-access schools, while more than 80 percent of white student enrollment has been at the 468 most selective U.S. four-year colleges.

This difference is not solely one of minority students being less prepared to gain admission to selective schools-more than 30 percent of African-American and Hispanic students with a GPA higher than 3.5 go to community colleges, compared with 22 percent of white students with the same GPA. On the completion side, African-American and Hispanic students are more likely to get a certificate or an associate degree and less likely to get a bachelor's degree.

The report rightly decries stratification by race and class in education, but also raises questions. Does selectivity of institution necessarily equate to students being prepared for high-demand jobs that pay family-sustaining wages? Selective schools do tend to have higher completion rates and, on average, workers with higher levels of education do earn more. However, prior research from Georgetown and others has demonstrated that a bachelor's degree is not always a ticket to a good job, depending on career field, and that CTE-related credentials can lead to higher earnings and employability than more advanced credentials in other fields.

Racial and class stratification and inequality should be combatted at all levels of education. But labels like "open access" and "selective" obscure many variations in institutions, their quality, their purpose and who they serve. As expressed by Matt Reed, author of the blog Confessions of a Community College Dean and vice president of Academic Affairs at Holyoke Community College, "One measure of the success of a community college is how well it serves the people who need it. If the service area in which the college is located is becoming more Hispanic-as is happening here-then serving that population well means we're doing our job. … The news that we're successfully reaching a population that stands to benefit greatly from higher education is an unalloyed good."

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