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Black college enrollment in South passes milestone

By Justin Pope
AP Education Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. — For the first time ever in the South, blacks are as well represented on college campuses as they are in the region’s population as a whole — something not yet true of the country overall.

The milestone is noted in a new fact book released Monday by the Southern Regional Education Board, a nonprofit organization that promotes education.

In the 16 states measured, the number of blacks enrolled in colleges has risen by more than half over the last decade. They now make 21 percent of college students and 19 percent of the overall population.

The number represents progress but it also has to be seen in context. A major contributing factor is the South’s rapidly growing Hispanic population, which has reduced the proportion of the population that is black, and thereby made the milestone easier to reach mathematically.

And educators also stressed that the number should not obscure the persistent achievements gaps affecting blacks both in the South and nationally. In particular, black enrollment rates for college-age students, while improving, still lag well behind those of whites, as do the graduation rates of black college students.

With a college degree now almost a prerequisite for high-paying jobs, those achievement gaps pose an economic threat — and the South will be on the cutting edge of that. In 2005 about 61 percent of public high school graduates in the South were white, the education board said, but by 2018 that figure is expected to be 45 percent.

“We’ve made tremendous progress, don’t get me wrong,” board President Dave Spence said.

But, he added, unless achievement gaps narrow, “we’re going to be in trouble. We already are in trouble, but we’ll be in more trouble seven or eight years down the road.”

Interpreting the numbers

The latest report may not reflect precisely what many consider the South, because the 16 states it covers also include
border states Kentucky, Delaware, West Virginia and Maryland.

Still, the report reflects the reality that many more Southern blacks are enrolling in college. In those states, about 1.1 million black students were enrolled in college in the fall of 2005, 52 percent more than a decade earlier.

The increase have come largely at new and expanding public, traditionally white universities and two-year colleges rather than at historically black colleges, which for many years shouldered nearly all the burden of higher education for Southern blacks.

Many of those schools still exist, but their share of black enrollment in the region has slipped from 26 percent to 19 percent over the last decade.

“We’ve removed a lot of the barriers and accepted that we will have to provide higher levels of learning support in the short-term,” said Erroll Davis, who oversees the 33 institutions in the University System of Georgia, noting minority students arrive on campus with lower levels of college preparedness on average.

Overall, blacks represent 31.4 percent of all Georgia college students, about 1 percent higher than the proportion in the overall population.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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