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Report highlights minority barriers to higher education

Damon C. Williams

According to the recently released, congressionally mandated report, “Higher Education: Gaps In Access and Persistence Study,” a myriad of socio-economic factors — persistent poverty and lack of resources and access to educational support systems — continue to hinder the rate at which minorities enter higher education.

Although short on solutions, the 329-page report — co-authored by the National Center for Education Statistics and the American Institutes for Research and authorized by the United States Department of Education — broke down 2010 student data (the last year in which a full data set is available) that factored in race, income, region and academic histories and then distilled that data into its findings.

In all, 46 unique indicators were used in crafting the report.

“In 2010, some 21 percent of children under age 18 were living in poverty, and the poverty rate for children living with a female parent with no spouse present was 44 percent. Also, in 2010, some 11.8 million children ages 5 to 17 — about 22 percent of the school-age population — spoke a language other than English at home, with 2.7 million speaking English with difficulty,” read the report’s executive summary. “In 2010, about 11 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 18 lived in a household where neither parent had earned at least a high school credential, either a diploma or an equivalency credential such as a General Educational Development certificate. The percentage of children with parents who had not earned a high school credential was 11 percent for both males and females.”

Perhaps aligning itself with educators and officials who argue against the per-pupil spending disparity in the education of white students verses that of minority ones, the report found that 84 percent of white students attend a predominantly white school, while 46 percent of African American students attend a predominantly African American school.

The report also factored in Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) scores, noting that 46 percent of African American students attended schools that failed to meet AYP, while only 33 percent of their white counterparts attended such a school.

School violence also factored into the report, showing that a higher percentage of African American students were threatened or injured. According to several resources, including education nonprofit Attendance Works, school violence is one of the leading factors of chronic absenteeism.

“In 2009, some 8 percent of students in grades 9 through 12 reported that they had been threatened or injured with a weapon, 11 percent reported that they had engaged in a physical fight, and 23 percent reported that drugs were available to them on school property in the past 12 months,” the report states. “Six percent of students reported having carried a weapon to school on one or more of the past 30 days. Overall, males reported having each of these experiences at higher rates than females did.”

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan seemed troubled by the findings.

“This report confirms that we have a long way to go to close the persistent gaps in college access and college completion for minority male students, especially those who are less well off,” Duncan said. “Improving college access and ensuring that more of these students complete college won’t only aid disadvantaged minority males, it will strengthen the entire country by better preparing us for a 21st century economy.”

Duncan’s comments regarding preparing students for future industry speak directly to the report’s findings that only 29 percent of African American college graduates earned a bachelor’s degree in a science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) course. Of those graduates, less than 1 percent earned degrees in the architecture and natural/agricultural resources disciplines.

Still, minority students can’t excel in college if they can’t first get there.

“Postsecondary attendance rates are generally lower for youth from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and those from various racial/ethnic groups (e.g., African Americans and Hispanics) when compared to Whites and Asians,” the report found. “In 2010, as in every year since 1980, a lower percentage of male than female 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled either in college or graduate school (39 vs. 47 percent). This pattern was also observed for whites (43 vs. 51 percent), African Americans (31 vs. 43 percent), Hispanics (26 vs. 36 percent), American Indians (24 vs. 33 percent), and persons of two or more races (40 vs. 49 percent).”

Philadelphia Tribune