Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Lingering Clouds of the Separate and Unequal Legacy

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Lingering Clouds of the Separate and Unequal Legacy

Article excerpt

Well, I guess the ancient Greeks were right when they warned of humanity of having "three happy days in a row." They cautioned those who would listen that life was not a pleasant experience and that bad situations are our constant companions.

My most recent feel-good bubble about Hispanic progress in our education system burst when 1 ran across a 42-page study from Georgetown University. Its jarring title caught my attention: "Separate and Unequal: How Higher Education Reinforces the Intergenerational Reproduction of White Racial Privilege." I wasn't surprised per se but the starkness of the title and its implications were enough to douse my optimism.

The well-researched report is provocative and thought-provoking. It begins by asserting that this country has long had "a racially polarized postsecondary education system" and that feeds a continuing intergenerational effect of racial inequality.

That combined with the difficulties that exist for social and economic mobility among ethnic groups, has produced enormous differences in educational opportunities and outcomes. For instance, Caucasians, the most favored of all, are twice as likely as blacks and three times as likely as Hispanics to complete a BA degree or higher.

Selecting age 30, by which time most students have completed college, they report 38 percent of Caucasians have earned a BA or higher. That in contrast to 20 percent for blacks and 13 percent for Hispanics.

Parental Influence

As has been true for generations, the education of both parents will impact if not outright determine the educational attainments their children ultimately acquire. That is logical and understandable. But it also overlooks the tremendous support parents who did not go college have given their children for generations on end. Hispanic parents have relentlessly encouraged their children to go to college.

It is useful to have some historic perspective. In 1900 only 10 percent of the nation's high school graduates went to college. And to step back further, most children did not finish high school.

This served as a clear impetus for decades for parents to encourage their children to go to college. That dream became possible in the late 1940s for millions thunks to the G.I. Bill of Rights. True, most were Caucasians but starting in the 1960s, Hispanics and blacks began to take advantage of new opportunities.

Clearly, racial inequality in the educational system has produced enormous differences in educational opportunities and outcomes. As mentioned before, Caucasians are twice as likely as blacks and three times as likely as Hispanics to complete a BA or higher.

And it is incremental since historically that as more Caucasians have finished college they in turn urge their children to do so as well. Children with college-educated parents are three times as likely to earn a BA or higher than blacks and Hispanics with a parent(s) who dropped out of college.

Fifty-eight percent of the children of Caucasian college graduates earn a BA or higher, compared to just 20 percent of the children of Hispanic and black college dropouts.

It Starts Early

Although many like to believe our education system is colorblind; the report bluntly states "it is racially polarized and exacerbates the intergenerational reproduction of white racial privilege."

But haven't we made tremendous progress over the recent decades? Yes. But as the report notes Hispanic and black access to postsecondary education over the past 15 years encompasses both good news and bad news.

The good news is that postsecondary access has increased dramatically for both groups. To be specific, between 1995 and 2009, new freshman enrollments at postsecondary institutions grew by a serious 107 percent for Hispanics, 73 percent for blacks, and 15 percent for Caucasians. That's tire good news.

The bad news is that, despite increasing access, students fall into two separate postsecondary pathways: one for Caucasians and another for Hispanics and blacks. …

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