Last week a colleague emailed me a link to an article entitled “Hispanics Surpass Blacks in College Enrollment.” The article cited a recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center finding that the number of Hispanic students between the ages of 18 to 24 rose by a dramatic 24 percent in one year. According to the study, 1.8 million Hispanic students enrolled in college compared to 1.7 million African-American students. Furthermore, African-Americans (especially older non-traditional students) still outnumber Hispanics on college campuses; however, college enrollment among Hispanics has doubled since 2000. If this trend in Hispanic college enrollment continues over the next 10 years, Hispanic college students will easily outnumber African-Americans.
These numbers shouldn’t come as a shock to anybody who has been keeping up with this country’s changing demographics. According to the 2010 US census, Hispanic-Americans are now the largest minority group in the nation. There are 39 million Hispanics in the United States compared to 38.9 million African-Americans. While I am happy to see that there are over a million African-American and Hispanics enrolling in college this year, I am deeply saddened to know that these numbers aren’t impressive in the overall scheme of things. I base this assertion on the fact that these numbers aren’t proportionate to the African- American and Hispanic overall populations. In fact, the numbers reflect less than 10 percent of the two groups’ overall population.
I am even more concerned about the graduation rate of Black and Hispanic college students. According to the Journal of Black Higher Education and a study conducted by the Pew Hispanic Institute, statistics show that the college graduation rate for Blacks and Hispanics still lag behind their white counterparts. For example, the college graduation rate for African-Americans is 43 percent and for Latinos its 51 percent, juxtaposed to 63 percent for whites.
In a constricting global economy, a highly skilled and educated populous has become a commodity as precious as any other natural resource. It is absolutely essential to any nation’s economic growth. At one point, this country led the world in the number of college graduates. Now the U.S. stands as the 10th country in the world in that respect. This phenomena didn’t take place overnight. It is the result of years of neglecting and underfunding our nation’s public schools and cutting funding for college tuition programs like Pell Grants.
Since the Reagan/Bush Era, right wing Republicans have lead a fiscal assault on our nation’s effort to assist poor people and minorities in their efforts to obtain a higher education. If this country is to compete on a global scale, it must ensure that all of its citizens have access to a college education. As I write, our nation’s combined minority population is rapidly becoming the country’s new majority. By allowing this education gap to continue, we threaten our nation’s economic well being and even the ideal of democracy itself. Our government adequately funding programs that will assist minorities in getting a higher education is not about continuing some superfluous liberal entitlement program as the radical right would have us think; it is more about investing in our nation’s future. It is about ensuring that our nation will continue to produce the best doctors, scientists, engineers and teachers that it has to offer.
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(Photo: REUTERS/Tami Chappell /Landov)