When 22-year-old Roberto Rosas was awarded his bachelor's in electrical engineering this spring from the University of Texas at San Antonio, it marked a major milestone for his family.
Like a growing number of students of color, Rosas is the first person in his family to graduate from college, a feat he achieved based on sheer determination to better himself and the lives of those around him.
"My family was just in shock," Rosas says. They didn't think it was possible for anyone in our family to go to college." He says he received "no inspiration or motivation" from his high school teachers and counselors, although he was in the top 10 percent of his high school graduating class. "I wanted to do something better."
The experiences of Rosas help put a real face on myriad reports that show a steady increase in the number of minorities earning college degrees in the United States over the past 25 years. Degrees earned, one measure of academic achievement and increasingly a required ticket for getting a well-paying job in this country, are up in all ethnic groups, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) and a more narrowly focused report released this spring by the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education.
For the 2006-2007 academic year, the latest figures available from NCES, Blacks earned 9.6 percent of all bachelor's degrees awarded, Hispanics 7.5 percent, Asians 6.9 percent and American Indians 0.8 percent. Whites earned 72.2 percent of all bachelor's degrees awarded and foreign students 3 percent. For 1984-1985, the corresponding numbers were 6.1 percent, 2.8 percent, 3.4 percent and 0.4 percent. For Whites, in 1984-1985, the corresponding numbers were 88 percent. There was no calculation for foreign students.
Racial minorities also showed gains in earning doctorate degrees, the credentials needed to hold professorial and top executive jobs in academic management and policy making such as president, chancellor and provost. For the 2006-2007 academic year, Blacks earned 6.1 percent of all doctorates awarded, Hispanics 3.4 percent, Asians 5.8 percent and American Indians 0.4 percent. Whites earned 56.2 percent of all doctorates awarded, while foreign students studying in the United States earned 28 percent. For 1984-1985, the corresponding numbers were 3.6 percent for Blacks, 2.1 percent for Hispanics, 3.2 percent for Asians and 0.3 percent for American Indians. For Whites, in 1984-1985, the corresponding numbers were 74.1 percent. Foreign students studying in America earned 19.4 percent of all doctorates awarded that year.
The numbers are just as impressive for degrees earned at the master's level.
The numerical gains in degrees earned over the past 25 years are just one sign of minority achievements in higher education over the past 25 years, say demographers and academics interviewed across the country. Signs of progress are all over the academic landscape.
In leadership, more people of color have been appointed to top executive roles and at a wider range of colleges. Mso, while their numbers are finite, Hispanics and Asians are being appointed leaders of colleges, just as Blacks and American Indians have headed institutions of higher learning for decades.
In the important arena of accreditation, there has been a steadily increasing presence of minorities in the ranks of accrediting organizations and participation on peer review panels.
"They understand what our people go through," says Dr. Mildred Garcia, president for the past two years of California State University, Dominguez Hills. Garcia, the first Hispanic appointed president of a Cal State System school, says the presence of people of color on accrediting panels gives those bodies greater insight into the challenges faced by schools with large minority populations. …