African American Culture and Heritage in Higher Education Research and Practice

By Kassie Freeman | Go to book overview

Overview: African American Participation in Higher Education

Reginald Wilson

The college participation rate for African Americans has fluctuated greatly over the past 10 years. After reaching a low point in enrollment in 1984, African Americans achieved a steady enrollment increase of 34.6% over the past decade. Notwithstanding the progress that African Americans have posted, especially since 1990, they continued to trail Whites in their college participation in 1994. Approximately 43% of White high school graduates ages 18 to 24 attended college compared with 35% for African American. In fact, after demonstrating increases in enrollment over the last decade, in 1994 African Americans posted the smallest percentage gains in undergraduate, graduate, and professional enrollments among the four ethnic minority groups. African Americans also continued to trail Whites in overall graduation rates at Division I institutions. The gap in graduation rates between African Americans and Whites was more than 20 percentage points in 1994. Despite these differences between African Americans and Whites, African Americans experienced growth at the four degree levels in 1993.

In order to better understand the progress that African Americans have made in their participation in, and graduation from, institutions of higher education, it is instructive to reflect the history of African American participation in higher education. It is particularly important for researchers and policymakers to have a context about the African American experience in higher education from which to write and make policy. This overview provides a historical background on African American participation in higher education, discusses the current status of African American participation in higher education, and concludes with thoughts and considerations on the importance of understanding how the past has informed the current predicament of African Americans in their quest for participation in higher education.

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