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Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities
NCES 2007-039
September 2007

Indicator 23: Enrollment

Adults who graduate from a postsecondary institution have more stable employment patterns and higher earnings than adults without postsecondary degrees (U.S. Department of Education 2005, indicators 15, 16, and 17). Over the past 25 years, the total enrollment of adults and the proportion of all 18- to 24-years olds enrolled in degree-granting institutions increased for Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics. Within each minority group, female enrollment increased more than male enrollment, although the rates of increase varied.

Indicator 23.1. Undergraduate enrollment

Undergraduate enrollment figures include all students, regardless of age, enrolled either part time or full time in undergraduate studies at a degree-granting institution. Between 1976 and 2004, total undergraduate enrollment increased for each racial/ethnic group. In 1976, some 1,535,000 minorities were enrolled in undergraduate studies at degree-granting institutions, accounting for 17 percent of total enrollment (appendix table A-23.1). Since then, enrollment has increased for each minority group, and in 2004, total minority enrollment reached 4,696,000, or 32 percent of total undergraduate enrollment. Asians/Pacific Islanders had the fastest rate of increase between 1976 and 2004 (461 percent); their enrollment increased from 169,000 to 950,000. During the same time period, Hispanic enrollment increased from 353,000 to 1,667,000, a 372 percent increase; American Indian/Alaska Native enrollment increased from 70,000 to 160,000, a 130 percent increase; and Black enrollment increased from 943,000 to 1,918,000, a 103 percent increase. The enrollment of each of the minority groups rose at a faster rate than that of Whites, which increased from 7,740,000 to 9,771,000, a 26 percent increase.

View Table View Table 23.1

Since 1976, the number of both males and females in undergraduate programs has increased. By 1980, the percentage of females enrolled as undergraduates surpassed the percentage of males enrolled as undergraduates. The largest difference between male and female enrollments was for Black students. In 1976, some 54 percent of Black undergraduate enrollment was female. Over time, Black females continued to enroll in degree-granting institutions in larger numbers than Black males, and in 2004, females accounted for 64 percent of the total Black enrollment. American Indian/Alaska Native female enrollment has also overtaken male enrollment: in 1976 enrollment numbers were almost even between American Indian/Alaska Native males and females, but thereafter, a larger number of females enrolled, and in 2004, females were 61 percent of the total American Indian/Alaska Native student enrollment. Similarly, both Hispanic and White females increased their percentages of undergraduate enrollment between 1976 and 2004 (from 46 to 59 percent for Hispanic females and from 48 to 56 percent for White females). Between 1976 and 1990, Asian/Pacific Islander females represented less than half of the total Asian/Pacific Islander enrollment. Since 2000, however, more females have enrolled, and in 2004, females represented 54 percent of total Asian/Pacific Islander enrollment, a near reversal of their standing with males three decades earlier.

View Figure View Figure 23.1

Indicator 23.2. Graduate enrollment

Total graduate enrollment also increased between the years 1976 and 2004 for each racial/ethnic group. Minority enrollment increased from 134,000, or 11 percent of the total in 1976, to 475,000, or 25 percent of the total, in 2004; much of the increase was due to higher enrollments after 1990 (appendix table A-23.2). The increase of Hispanic graduate enrollment from 26,000 to 126,000 students between 1976 and 2004 represented the highest rate of increase (377 percent) of any racial/ethnic group. The rate of increase during this period was nearly the same for Asians/Pacific Islanders (373 percent), reflecting an increase from 25,000 to 116,000. More Black and American Indians/Alaska Natives enrolled in graduate studies in 2004 than in prior years. The number of Black graduate students increased from 78,000 to 220,000 (181 percent) between 1976 and 2004. The number of American Indian/Alaska Native graduate students increased from 5,000 to 13,000 (162 percent), and the number of White graduate students increased from 1,116,000 to 1,413,000 (27 percent) during the same period.

View Table View Table 23.2

Shifts in graduate enrollment were similar to shifts in undergraduate enrollment: More females were enrolled in graduate programs in 2004 than males, and the size of the gap differed by race/ethnicity. Again, the largest difference in the percentages of males and females enrolled was for Black students. In 1976, Black females composed 59 percent of the total number of Black graduate students. Black females continued to enroll at faster rates than did their male counterparts, and by 2004, 71 percent of Black graduate students were female. In 1976, White, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native females represented less than 50 percent of the total enrollment of their respective race/ethnicities. However, between 1976 and 2004, female enrollment grew faster than male enrollment for all racial/ethnic groups shown, and in 2004 females accounted for 61 percent of White, 63 percent of Hispanic, 54 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander, and 65 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native graduate enrollment.

View Figure View Figure 23.2

Indicator 23.3. Postsecondary participation rate

Another measure of enrollment is the postsecondary participation rate, which is the proportion of all 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in colleges or universities, including both undergraduate and graduate studies. This measure accounts for population growth within the demographic group.

The overall postsecondary participation rate increased over the past 25 years. In 1980, 28 percent of White 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in colleges and universities, compared to 42 percent in 2004, an increase of 14 percentage points. Blacks and Hispanics also experienced increases in their postsecondary participation rates. In 2004, 32 percent of Black 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in colleges or universities (an increase of 12 percentage points from 1980) and 25 percent of Hispanic 18-to 24- year-olds were enrolled (an increase of 8 percentage points from 1980).

No measurable differences were found in the participation rates between 1990 and 2004 (data were not available for 1980) for Asians/Pacific Islanders or for American Indians/Alaska Natives—the apparent increase in participation rate for each group was not statistically significant, due to large standard errors. In 2004, Asians/Pacific Islanders had the highest participation rate (60 percent).

Participation rates differed for males and females in 2004. Thirty-seven percent of all 18- to 24-year-old Black females were enrolled in colleges or universities, compared to 26 percent of Black males. Hispanic females had a participation rate of 28 percent compared to 22 percent for Hispanic males. White females also enrolled at a higher rate (45 percent) than White males (38 percent). No measurable differences were detected in the participation rates between the sexes for Asians/Pacific Islanders or for American Indians/Alaska Natives.

View Table View Table 23.3
View Figure View Figure 23.3