Report: Higher Education Creates 'White Racial Privilege'

Researchers said white students are disproportionately concentrated at elite, well-funded colleges.

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While the number of minority students entering the nation's higher education system is growing by the thousands every year, they are being funneled into underfunded institutions while white students are concentrated in more elite and selective universities, according to researchers at Georgetown University.

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The report, released on Wednesday by the university's Center on Education and the Workforce, found that the same racial and ethnic divide found in the nation's K-12 schools is repeated in higher education, perpetuating what researchers call a "white racial privilege."

"The postsecondary system mimics and magnifies the racial and ethnic inequality in educational preparation it inherits from the K-12 system and then projects this inequality into the labor market," the report says.

Although African-Americans' and Hispanics' participation in higher education has been growing faster than white students, the report found that whites are over-represented in the nation's 468 most selective and well-funded colleges and are increasingly vacating the less selective open-access, two- and four-year colleges, which admit a majority of their applicants. On the other hand, African-American and Hispanic students are concentrated at 3,250 of these open-access colleges.

Between 1995 and 2009, freshman enrollment for African-Americans and Hispanics increased by 73 percent and 107 percent respectively, while freshman enrollment for whites only increased by 15 percent, the report says. Still, the large majority of new white enrollments – more than 80 percent – have been at the top 468 colleges, while more than 70 percent of new African-American and Hispanic enrollments have been at open-access colleges.

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White enrollment at elite institutions compared to the rest of the college-aged population has also been increasing. In 1995, whites made up 68 percent of the college-age population and 77 percent of enrollment at top schools – a 9 percentage point advantage. By 2009, that advantage increased to 13 percentage points.

The report also says the country's higher education system does not treat students equally, regardless of their qualifications. Although many minorities are unprepared for college, whites who are just as unprepared are still presented with more opportunities and more likely to receive a bachelor's degree, the report says.

While more than 30 percent of African-Americans and Hispanics with a high school grade point average of 3.5 or higher attended community colleges, only 22 percent of whites with the same GPA attended the same level of schooling. Likewise, the report found that 57 percent of minority students with scores higher than 1200 out of 1600 (the SAT scoring scale changed to a maximum of 2400 points in 2005) on the SAT eventually received some sort of certificate or degree, compared to 77 percent of whites with similar scores.

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Because more whites end up in more elite schools, the system disproportionately tracks many qualified minorities on "educational pathways that don't allow them to fulfill their educational and career potential," the report says.

Access to top institutions is important because the schools spend anywhere from two to nearly five times as much on instruction per student as open-access colleges. This matters because the extra spending leads to higher chances of attaining a bachelor's degree, which the report considers an "important threshold for racial equality in education and earnings."

"It is difficult to clearly mark the point where racial discrimination ends and economic depravation begins, but the evidence is clear that both negatively affect educational and economic opportunity and are most powerful in combination," the report says.

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