Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Latino and Black Students Underrepresented at Top Colleges, Says Study

A new report by Stanford University researchers shows the proportion of Latino students enrolled at top universities barely budged between 1982 and 2004. In fact, the racial disparities given the growing diversity of the country’s population have worsened.

White students are three times as likely as Hispanic students to enroll in a highly selective university.

The researchers at the Center for Education Policy Analysis found that in 2004, students admitted to very selective schools were 72.5 percent white, 12 percent Asian, 7 percent Latino and 3.5 percent black. Meanwhile, that year the high school graduating class was 60 percent white, 14.5 percent black, 16 percent Latino and four percent Asian.

In 1982, the proportion of Latino students enrolled in highly selective colleges wasn’t much different. At that time, about 6 percent of students were Latino and 5.6 percent were black.

Researchers attributed the problem to growing income inequality, tuition growth, a widening achievement gap by income and fiercer competition for admission to top colleges. However, they said the enrollment disparities are not due to achievement gaps, which they believe have narrowed for black students, but could result from the elimination of affirmative action policies. Another recent report found that affirmative action policy bans have reduced the diversity of graduate programs.

In addition, they found that the students were underrepresented even when controlling for family income. They say that if students are admitted based on being among the top ten percent of graduates in their states, as Texas does, the diversity would actually decline.

The report concludes:

“Changes in who applies to college, which colleges they apply to, how colleges determine whom to admit (including if and how they use race and race-related factors in admissions decisions), and where students decide to enroll (which depends in part on tuition costs and the availability of financial aid, as well as on students’ perceptions of how well colleges’ academic offerings and social climate fits their needs) all may play a part in the increasing underrepresentation of black and Hispanic students at the most selective colleges and universities. These college decision processes, as well as the persistent racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps, must change if highly-selective colleges and universities are to enroll more diverse classes of students.” 

They designated highly selective universities based on ratings from the Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges guides, which schools from a 1-7, with 1 being the most selective. Barron’s bases their ratings on high school GPAs, class ranks, SAT/ACT scores and proportion of students admitted. Researchers considered a 1 most competitive and a 2 as highly selective, and considered the diversity of students enrolled in those two categories of schools in the study.

Researchers found it interesting that the most selective universities (level 1) had slightly more diverse enrollments, by income and race, than those at the second level.

The study comes as the Supreme Court is poised to take on the issue of affirmative action admissions to universities with consideration of the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case.