November 2008
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Minorities in Higher Education 2008: Twenty-third Status Report

Postsecondary educational attainment rates of minority-group members in the United States have fallen into familiar patterns over the past two decades that reveal significant and persistent achievement gaps—especially for Hispanics, finds a new study from the American Council on Education. Degree-attainment patterns are unlikely to change unless the gaps are closed at important transitional points, including high school completion, college enrollment, and college persistence from the first year to the second year. The study, which draws data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics, also analyzes trends in undergraduate and graduate degree attainment by race.


High School Completion: *

  • In the past twenty years, the percentage of African Americans aged 18-24 who earned a high school diploma remained steady at 76 percent. African American young women outperformed their male peers by 9 percentage points in high school completion rates.
  • High school completion rates for Hispanics increased from 59 percent to 68 percent since 1987, but still remain the lowest of any racial/ethnic group. Hispanic young women outperformed their male peers by 10 percentage points—the largest gender gap of any racial/ethnic group.
  • American Indian students had a high school completion rate of 71 percent in 2006. Data did not exist to measure the trend since 1987.

College Enrollment:

  • Among minority groups, African Americans saw the largest increase in college enrollment in the past twenty years, from 22 percent in 1987 to 32 percent in 2006. Hispanics saw the smallest increase—from 18 percent to 25 percent.
  • Minority student enrollment has increased relative to overall college enrollment since 1995—from 24 percent to 29 percent in 2005.
  • Minority women represent 61 percent of minority student college enrollment, compared with 57 percent for white women.

College Persistence

  • Students who began their education at four-year institutions were much more likely to persist than their peers who began at two-year institutions—81 percent versus 55 percent for students who were freshmen in 2003.
  • Asian American students have the highest persistence rates of any other racial/ethnic group, including whites, while African American students have the lowest—regardless of institution type.
  • Since 1995, overall persistence rates have declined for all students and all institution types except African Americans who begin at two-year institutions. Persistence rates for those students increased from 45 percent in 1995 to 47 percent in 2003.

* High school completion statistics refer to both diplomas and equivalency credentials such as the GED.

The complete report may be ordered online from the American Council on Education.


  • As of 2006, Asian Americans had the highest high school completion rate of any racial or ethnic group, at 91 percent.
  • From 1995 to 2005, total U.S. minority enrollment in higher education grew from 3.4 million to 5 millions students—an increase of 50 percent.
  • Historically black colleges and universities enrolled a smaller percentage of all African American college students in 2005 (12 percent) than they did twenty years earlier (16 percent).