Commentary: Are America's Colleges "Separate But Unequal"?

A report by Georgetown University indicates how the country’s colleges still have disparities of opportunity and outcomes.

Posted: 07/31/2013 02:38 PM EDT

When it comes to college education, the country has come a long way when it comes to providing opportunities for African-American students. But there remain disparities so glaring that they simply cannot be ignored.

A study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education demonstrates that when it comes to higher education, white college students remain more advantaged than their counterparts of color.

"The American post-secondary system increasingly has become a dual system of racially separate pathways, even as overall minority access to the post-secondary system has grown dramatically," said Jeff Ttrohl, one of the authors of the study.

The report, called "Separate but Unequal," indicates that more than 80 percent of new white students were enrolled at the top 468 colleges, while more than 70 percent of new African-American and Latino enrollments have been at the nation’s open-access two-year and four-year colleges.

Furthermore, the report said, between 1995 and 2009 the white share of enrollments in open-access two-year and four-year colleges declined from 69 percent to 57 percent. What is clear is that for African-American and Latino college students, the paths to higher education are vastly separate. And, at the same time, those paths generally lead to different educational outcomes.

The report said that more than 30 percent of African-American and Latino students with a high school grade point average of 3.5 or higher attend community colleges. That compares with 22 percent of white students with identical grade point averages.

In addition, among the students who score at the top 50 percent of tests, 51 percent of white students get bachelor’s degrees or higher compared with 34 percent of African-American college students and 32 percent of Latino students.

The data make clear that the nation’s higher education system is not quite as colorblind as its leaders might suggest.

In fact, the system acts “at least in part, as a systematic barrier to opportunity for many African-Americans and Hispanics, many of whom are college-qualified but tracked into overcrowded and underfunded colleges where they are less likely to develop fully or to graduate," said Anthony Carnevale, director of the center and the other author of the report.

More than anything, the report makes clear that there is a great deal of progress yet to be made. Until the nation’s higher education system provides equal access, comparable financial opportunity to attend the nation’s better schools and reasonably equal outcomes, the country still has a long way to go to meet its promise of equality for all American college students.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)


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