White students are disproportionately represented at the nation’s top public colleges and universities, according to new research from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW). This discrepancy reinforces white privilege and exacerbates racial differences in degree attainment, the study says.
‘Separate and unequal tracks’
The report finds that racial inequity in enrollment creates “two separate and unequal tracks” in higher education, writes Education Dive. According to CEW, the college-age population in part is 54 percent white, 21 percent Latinx, and 15 percent Black. By contrast, the incomplete racial makeup of students attending elite public colleges is 64 percent white, 12 percent Latinx, and 7 percent Black.
Although Black and Latinx students are “making unprecedented gains in college-going,” most are attending open-access colleges, which receive less funding and achieve lower graduation rates. Selective public schools spend nearly three times on instructional and academic support as open-access schools, and they achieve an 81 percent graduation rate for Black and Latinx students (versus 46 percent for open-access schools).
The discrepancy in selective college attendance does not stem from lack of academic qualification, the researchers note; less than 20 percent of Black and Latinx students with above-average SAT or ACT scores attend a selective college. “There are far more black and Latino students with the qualifications to attend selective colleges than ever get to attend one,” Anthony Carnevale, director of CEW and lead author of the report, told Inside Higher Ed.
Opportunities to curb disparities
To begin to address these discrepancies, the authors recommend reducing reliance on standardized test scores in admissions decisions; aligning enrollment demographics at selective public colleges with the racial and ethnic make-up of the state’s population; and allocating more public funding to open-enrollment schools.
“The funding divide between selective public colleges and open-access public colleges is due in part to an elite political bargain among legislators, governors, selective public colleges, and affluent, mostly white families,” Martin Van Der Werf, associate director of editorial and postsecondary policy at CEW and co-author of the report, said in a statement.