Study: Whites More Likely to Enroll in Top Colleges Than Minorities

A new report out of Georgetown University shows that white students tend to enroll in better-funded and more prestigious colleges and universities than their minority peers. The study, published by the university’s Center on Education and the Workforce, argues that the “funneling” process that steers minorities into lower-quality institutions is subsequently repeated after graduation when the students begin to enter the job market.

Authors claim that this leads to the widening “white racial privilege.”

Although enrollment numbers for minority students have been growing, African-American and Hispanic students are overrepresented in the country’s 3,250 open-access colleges that admit the majority of their applicants, while the number of white students there is falling. In contrast, white student enrollment is spiking at the country’s 468 most competitive colleges.

Between 1995 and 2009, freshman enrollment for African-Americans and Hispanics increased by 73 percent and 107 percent respectively, while freshman enrollment for whites only increased by 15 percent, the report says. Still, the large majority of new white enrollments – more than 80 percent – have been at the top 468 colleges, while more than 70 percent of new African-American and Hispanic enrollments have been at open-access colleges.

White enrollment at elite institutions compared to the rest of the college-aged population has also been increasing. In 1995, whites made up 68 percent of the college-age population and 77 percent of enrollment at top schools – a 9 percentage point advantage. By 2009, that advantage increased to 13 percentage points.

The discrepancy is not based on different level of college readiness. As Allie Bidwell of US News & World Report explains, the study finds that white students have more opportunities than minority high school graduates even when the level of achievement is the same. Only 22% of white students with 3.5 GPA or better attended a community college after graduating high school, while more than 30% of minority students did. Of the African-Americans and Hispanics who got between 1200 and 1600 on their SAT, only 57% eventually earned academic credentials after high school, while more than 75% of white students with similar scores reached the same goal.

Because more whites end up in more elite schools, the system disproportionately tracks many qualified minorities on “educational pathways that don’t allow them to fulfill their educational and career potential,” the report says.
Access to top institutions is important because the schools spend anywhere from two to nearly five times as much on instruction per student as open-access colleges. This matters because the extra spending leads to higher chances of attaining a bachelor’s degree, which the report considers an “important threshold for racial equality in education and earnings.”