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Report on Degree Completion and Race Raises Concerns

October 9, 2008

by Emily

American higher education has just experienced something it hasn't seen since before World War II: a break in the constant increase of degree completion, including a decline in the percentage of minority students attaining a degree.  This has some higher education officials worried that colleges are not doing an adequate job of recruiting and retaining members of disadvantaged groups.

Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 are only slightly more likely to have attained an associate's degree or higher than Americans ages 30 and up, according to the report released today  by the American Council on Education.  The report, which is already receiving a fair amount of press coverage, including a thorough piece in Inside Higher Ed today, shows that overall degree attainment has held almost steady, with 34.9 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 holding degrees, compared to 34.3 percent of those over 30.

While more white and Asian American students have received an associate's degree or higher among the current generation, degree attainment has actually fallen for African American, Hispanic, and American Indian students.  Asian Americans continue to have the highest rate of degree attainment at 66.2 percent (up from 54.1 percent), while only 16 percent of Latinos in the younger age group have completed a degree (down from 17.8 percent of those 30 and over).  However, the current generation of black and Latino women have outperformed previous generations, which is part of an overall trend of women being more likely than men to attend college and complete a degree.

The report also shows that total enrollment of minorities in college has increased by 50 percent over the last ten years, with white enrollment increasing by 8 percent.  Like degree attainment, enrollment gains have been uneven, with 61 percent of Asian Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 enrolled in college, compared to 44 percent of whites, 32 percent of African Americans, and 25 percent of Hispanics and American Indians.

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