Report: White Students Continue to Be Overrepresented at Selective Public Colleges

By Allie Arcese, Sr. Director of Strategic Communications & Engagement

By Allie Bidwell, NASFAA Senior Reporter

Despite efforts some colleges and universities have made to increase diversity on their campuses, white students remain significantly overrepresented at the most selective public institutions—an issue stemming largely from “misguided admissions practices and growing inequality in funding,” according to a new report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW).

In the report, released Tuesday, the authors find that many selective public colleges do not have student populations that reflect the broader college-age population. At elite public institutions, they found, white students make up 64 percent of freshmen enrollment, while they make up just 54 percent of the college-age population.

The disparity is flipped, however, for black and Latino students. At selective public colleges, black students make up just 7 percent of the freshmen enrollment, but 15 percent of the college-age population. Likewise, Latino students are just 12 percent of freshmen enrollment, but 21 percent of the larger population.

Prior research has shown that minority students may actually be overrepresented at less selective colleges. The authors of the Georgetown report argue the difference matters, as more selective public colleges are better funded, and spend more money per student on academics, with the gap in academic funding per student growing from $8,800 in 2005 to $10,600 in 2015 between open-access institutions and more selective public colleges.

“The funding divide between selective public colleges and open-access public colleges is due in part to an elite political bargain among legislators, governors, selective public colleges, and affluent, mostly White families,” said Martin Van Der Werf, associate director of editorial and postsecondary policy at CEW and co-author of the report, in a statement.

The authors found that of the 41 states with selective public colleges, all spend more per student at those institutions than on open-access institutions, and 15 states spend at least twice as much per student.

The authors also noted that students stand a better chance of graduating at a more selective college, but many of those who would succeed do not get in due to institutions’ reliance on standardized test scores.

Standardized tests, the report said, “are overrated and overused as predictors of college completion.”

“First, even at their best, the SAT and ACT results account for as little as 15 percent and no more than 30 percent of the difference in graduation rates among individual students,” the report said. “Second, test scores and other metrics used for college admissions are probability statements on college success, not absolute statements on who is qualified for admission.”

Anthony Carnevale, director of CEW and lead author of the report, said in a statement that “the argument favoring marginal differences in test scores is just another name for affirmative action for already-privileged Whites.”

“Leaders of selective public colleges often espouse the importance of diversity. But those colleges mostly exclude students who fail to score in the top quartile on college-entry exams,” the report said. “To promote the postsecondary success of Blacks and Latinos, these colleges should promote equity. Ultimately, they must do that by placing less emphasis on test scores and developing measurements that are more inclusive. The problem is clear when we realize that there are many qualified Black and Latino students who do not get into selective colleges.”


Publication Date: 11/14/2018

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