We often tout higher education as the key to better economic opportunity for youth of color.

However, a new report shows that the current state of higher education in the United States continues to perpetuate racial inequality:

Colleges and universities have succeeded in attracting more underrepresented-minority students, but that increased access for black and Hispanic students has been accompanied by increasing campus polarization on the basis of race and ethnicity, says a report released on Wednesday by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

The result, it says, is a system in which elite selective colleges enroll predominantly white students while black and Hispanic students, even high-achieving ones, largely attend open-access institutions. Because the latter group of colleges spends less on instruction and sees lower shares of students through to graduation, higher education has thus become a “passive agent” in perpetuating white privilege, says the report, “Separate and Unequal: How Higher Education Reinforces the Intergenerational Reproduction of 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.

From 1995 to 2009, freshman enrollments increased for African-American students by 73 percent, for Hispanic students by 107 percent, and for white students by 15 percent, according to the report.

But among white freshmen during that time, 82 percent of new enrollments were at the most selective four-year institutions, whereas most of the new freshman enrollments for Hispanic and African-American students—72 percent and 68 percent, respectively—were at open-access two- and four-year institutions.

The implications of those enrollment patterns are profound, the report argues. Students who attend open-access institutions are less likely to complete their degrees on time and less likely to go on to earn graduate degrees, it says. Meanwhile, when African-American and Hispanic students do attend more-selective institutions, the results are dramatic, the report says: The students’ earnings advantage, for instance, increases by 21 percent.

Read more at The Chronicle.

What can be done to stop perpetuating white privilege in higher education

If the structure of higher education perpetuates racial inequality, should other options be considered?

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