While U.S. colleges have grown more racially diverse in recent years, minority students – especially Hispanics – still lag behind on key measures of academic progress, a new report says.
Those findings were released Wednesday in a biannual report card on minority educational attainment by the American Council on Education, with financial backing from the GE Foundation.
Overall, postsecondary educational achievement has flat-lined, meaning today's young adults are no better educated than the baby-boomer generation, the report concludes.
"Equality in education for all Americans remains a somewhat elusive goal that we must strive to reach," said ACE president Molly Corbett Broad.
The report pays special attention to the nation's estimated 47 million Hispanics, including what it describes as an overlooked population in education policy – Hispanic immigrant adults.
Hispanics made the largest gains and narrowed gaps with whites and blacks on high school completion from 1988 to 2008. Report author Mikyung Ryu called it "impressive progress." Yet Hispanics still have the lowest high school completion rates of any group, at 70 percent.
When it comes to college, the Hispanic record is similarly mixed. In 2008, 28 percent of traditional college-age Hispanics were in college, up from 17 percent two decades earlier.
But other racial groups made greater gains, and an enrollment gap that has whites ahead of Hispanics has widened. Young Hispanic men are lagging farther behind young Hispanic women.
"I appreciate it isn't a doomsday piece, like we see so much in data, like a crisis," said Deborah Santiago, vice president of policy and research for Excelencia in Education, which advocates for Hispanic college success. "But it does start to articulate where we really need to act."
Among the other findings, based on U.S. Department of Education data:
_Between 1997 and 2007, total minority enrollment on U.S. campuses grew 52 percent to 5.4 million, while the number of white students grew 12 percent, to 10.8 million. Minorities accounted for 30 percent of the college student population, up from 25 percent.
_The gender gap is growing, mostly driven by the progress of Asian-American and white women. Overall, 45 percent of traditional college-aged women were enrolled in college in 2008, compared with 37 percent of men.
_Despite enrollment gains by minorities in the past decade, two-thirds of undergraduate degrees were awarded to white students in 2007. Minority students drove growth in associate's degrees, while whites were more responsible for bachelor's degree growth.
In a special essay on Hispanics, the report notes that Hispanic immigrant adults' degree attainment is 14 percent, compared with U.S.-born Hispanics at 25 percent. It urges greater investment in alternative education and training programs to better serve that demographic.
Frank Alvarez, president and CEO of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, questioned the emphasis on immigrants.
"The issue of immigration status detracts from the main theme – getting the community as a whole, a major subsection of the American population, to become college-going," Alvarez said.
ACE officials say the focus is warranted given Hispanics' importance in trying to raise U.S. college completion rates and compete in the global economy.