Blacks' college enrollment rate slows

January 08, 1995|By Keith Henderson | Keith Henderson,Christian Science Monitor

BOSTON -- Higher education has been a prime means of transporting black Americans into the economic mainstream even before the 1960s civil rights revolution. But that means may be sputtering a bit, according to recent statistics.

While the enrollment of African-Americans in colleges and HTC universities has risen remarkably over the last three decades, the bulk of that growth came in the 1970s and slowed in later years. Today, some analysts see a widening gap in college attendance between black and white high school graduates.

At the same time, state financial aid is dwindling in many parts of the country, tuitions are rising at some public institutions, and efforts are under way to roll back affirmative-action programs, designed to correct the effects of racial discrimination.

In absolute numbers, the picture is not all grim. A December report by the American Council on Education (ACE) indicated a 27 percent gain in college enrollment among black high school graduates between 1982 and 1992, from 1.1 million students to 1.4 million. During that decade, women earned around 60 percent of all the degrees awarded African-Americans.

The number of black college and university students enrolled in the early '80s represented a gain of more than 100 percent over the number enrolled in the mid-'60s, ACE analyst Deborah Carter says. She estimates the black college population in the 1960s at only 500,000, mostly concentrated in black colleges and universities.

The gains in black enrollment during the '70s sprang largely from the onset of federal-grant programs aimed at low-income students, Ms. Carter says. Also important was an influx of black Vietnam veterans taking advantage of federal education benefits. By the mid-'70s, the bulk of African-American college enrollment had shifted from traditionally black schools to predominantly white institutions.

In 1976, 33 percent of black high school graduates in the United States went to college, comparable to the rate of whites, according to the ACE report. And by 1993, the rate of college attendance by blacks had climbed back nearly to its 1976 level, but the rate among whites had risen to almost 42 percent. Charles Willie, a sociology professor at Harvard University, sees economic reasons behind declining gains in black enrollments since the 1970s. He cites a shift away from federal grants toward loans and the reluctance of low- or moderate-income blacks to go into debt for a college education.

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