Competing Explanations for Minority Enrollments in Higher Education
Fryar, Alisa Hicklin, Hawes, Daniel P., Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory
COMPETING EXPLANATIONS FOR MINORITY ENROLLMENTS IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Few issues in higher education have been as contentious as the debate over the proper treatment of race and ethnicity in universities. In a recent survey of public university administrators, (1) nearly 90% of respondents said that their university was currently pursuing efforts to increase the diversity of their student body. These efforts to increase the representation of minority groups have been debated at length in the popular media, professional association publications, legislative bodies, and, most notably, in the courts.
Although some universities are clearly better at attracting minority students than others, we know surprisingly little about this variation among institutions. Because so little is known about what macrolevel factors affect shifts in minority student enrollments, university administrators have very little policy-relevant information on which to base decisions concerning program design and monetary allocations. Education scholars have begun researching particular programs on individual campuses or within certain states (Hurtado and Cade, 2001; Pusser, 2001; Tienda and Niu, 2006), but these universities are all operating within environments that have not been the focus of scholarly research.
A number of scholars have noted the need for more research on how the politics of higher education affects university outcomes (Lipson, 2007, 2008, forthcoming; McLendon, 2003b; Rigdon and Abernathy, 1998). Unfortunately, this call has gone largely unanswered in the political science and policy community, despite the long history of political conflict in American universities (Hicklin, 2007; Hicklin and Meier, 2008; Knott and Payne, 2004; Lowry, 2001).
This article will examine the variation in minority student enrollments at American public universities by testing commonly held assumptions about the factors that affect enrollment rates. Additionally, this article draws on theories in political science, public administration, and public policy to offer better explanations of the variance in enrollments. This analysis incorporates both university-level and state-level determinants in an effort to differentiate between university-specific issues and the effect of the university's broader political environment.
WE WORK REALLY HARD TO RECRUIT MINORITY STUDENTS, BUT ...
The above-mentioned survey of public universities asked administrators about the barriers to increasing student diversity. The top three explanations centered on financial constraints (over 30%), pipeline issues (23%), and university-specific characteristics, such as location, competition with other schools, and campus climate (21%). (2) Anecdotal evidence also supports these findings, as accounts of diversity efforts often include statements such as, "we just don't have enough scholarship funds to attract the good minority students," "the pipeline is just too constrained," and "minority students don't want to come here ... we can't compete with other schools."
The overwhelming majority of administrators point to the university's resources, environment, and supply issues as explanations for student minority enrollment, with very few other explanations offered. Granted, these explanations definitely have merit. Empirical evidence suggests that minority students graduate high school at much lower rates than do Anglo students, often graduate from schools that offer fewer opportunities in terms of college preparation, and come from families that have fewer financial resources, less information about the college process, and lower expectations (Leal, Martinez-Ebers, and Meier, 2004; Riley and Pompa, 1998).
The state's ability to provide quality education to minority students and assure that these students make it to graduation day should affect the pipeline that feeds into universities. As with any system based …
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Publication information: Article title: Competing Explanations for Minority Enrollments in Higher Education. Contributors: Fryar, Alisa Hicklin - Author, Hawes, Daniel P. - Author. Journal title: Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory. Volume: 22. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 2012. Page number: 83+. © 1999 University of Kansas. COPYRIGHT 2012 Gale Group.
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