A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n
US Department of Education
Low Income and Minority StudentsStudents With DisabilitiesImproving Academic Preparaton
What We Heard From StakeholdersOPE Actions

Theme 1

Minority Student Reading Book

Low-income and Minority Students

Students who do not attend college or who drop out quickly are predominantly persons from low-income families, living in underdeveloped areas within major cities or in sparsely populated rural areas, and who have attended ineffective elementary and secondary schools. Those who make it to college generally attend institutions that are undercapitalized, and they graduate at a rate that is significantly lower than their more advantaged counterparts.20

Inadequate academic preparation is the key factor in lack of college success. Members of low-income families are much less prepared for college than their higher income counterparts. For example, among high school graduates in 1992, only 21 percent of those with family incomes of less than $25,000 were highly qualified for admission at a four-year institution, and 20 percent were minimally qualified. For students with family incomes above $75,000, 56 percent were highly qualified and 12 percent minimally qualified.21

Students who are not prepared are also much less likely to succeed in college. For example, only 34 percent of students needing remedial reading completed a degree compared with 56 percent for students who did not take any remedial courses.22

It is quite clear that improving access and success in college requires a continued push to improve the education students receive in their elementary and secondary schooling. This emphasizes quite clearly how closely linked K-12 and postsecondary education are. The Clinton-Gore Administration's efforts over the past eight years to raise K-12 standards nationwide, strengthen teaching, help every child read well and independently by the third grade, boost math and science learning, and reform schools have established a strong foundation for preparing students to succeed in college, and we must continue to strengthen and build upon this foundation. Efforts to focus on a K-16 approach, such as GEAR UP, are essential.

Currently, there are more than 5.5 million students enrolled in educational programs at over 1,600 degree-granting community colleges across the country.23 Although close to 80 percent intended at the time of admission to pursue a baccalaureate or post-baccalaureate degree, only 40 percent of them actually do transfer. Those who do transfer graduate at approximately the same rate (70 percent) as students who began at a four-year institution.24

Because America's racial and ethnic minorities are the fastest-growing sectors in the country and they make up a disproportionately large segment of the economically poor population, tending to their educational needs is in everyone's interest. The level of their educational achievements will dramatically affect the future of our nation. At present, African Americans and Hispanic Americans make up 22 percent of the general population, 19 percent of undergraduate enrollment, and 14 percent of undergraduate degrees.25

On the graduate level, these groups make up less than 12 percent of graduate enrollment, and 8 percent of graduate degrees.26 At the U.S. Department of Education, we are deeply concerned at these low minority rates of participation in graduate education. Increasing demands from the new economy have tremendously enhanced the importance of graduate degrees for success in the 21st century—success for the individual and success for our country. We need to work to ensure that access to graduate education is available to all Americans. And our graduate schools must come to reflect the face of America, with the diverse racial and ethnic makeup that is one of our country's outstanding features.

We cannot expect to resolve access issues sequentially. Preparation for college; access to college; persistence and success in college; graduation; and graduate and professional education-these issues should be addressed comprehensively and simultaneously. Real access comprises admission, persistence, and success. This was affirmed again and again by participants in our Agenda Project dialogue sessions.

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