US: Generational gains stall, says new ACE report

The tradition of young adults in the United States achieving higher levels of education than previous generations "appears to have stalled", a new report by the American Council on Education concludes. Minorities in Higher Education 2008 Twenty-third Status Report also found that "for far too many people of colour, the percentage of young adults with some type of postsecondary degree compared with older adults has actually fallen".

According to the report, around 35% of both young adults between 25 and 29 years and older adults of 30 or above had at least an associate degree in 2006. "It appears we are at a tipping point in our nation's history," said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education (ACE), the coordinating body for more than 1,600 college and university heads. "One of the core tenets of the American dream is the hope that younger generations, who've had greater opportunities for educational advancement than their parents and grandparents, will be better off than the generations before them, yet this report shows that aspiration is at serious risk."

Young Hispanic and American Indian adults have less education than previous generations: "In 2006, among older Hispanics, 18% had at least an associate degree, but just 16% of young Hispanics had reached that same educational threshold. Among American Indians, 21% of older adults had at least an associate degree compared with 18% of young adults," the report reveals.

Tertiary educational attainment rates of African Americans remained relatively the same for both age groups, at approximately 24% while Asian Americans and whites were the only two groups where young adults were more educated than prior generations, with 66% of young Asian Americans having at least an associate degree compared with 54% of older Asian Americans. The percentages for whites were 41% for young adults and 37% for older adults.

The Minorities in Higher Education 2008 Twenty-third Status Report describes trends in high school completion, college enrolment, college persistence, degrees conferred and higher education employment, using data from the US Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics and the US Census Bureau.

Among its key finds are that total minority enrolment in colleges and universities rose by 50% from 3.4 million students to five million students between 1995 and 2005. Students of colour made up 29% of the nearly 17.5 million students on America's campuses. White enrolment grew from 9.9 million to 10.7 million, a gain of 8%. It continues:

"Despite significant gains in college enrolment rates for young people from all races, progress was uneven and gaps widened. In 2006, 61% of Asian Americans aged 18 to 24 were enrolled in college compared with 44% of whites, 32% of African Americans, and 25% of Hispanics and American Indians respectively."

Although minorities have made gains as academics, administrators and presidents over the last decade, "whites still fill the overwhelming majority of these positions. In 2005, minorities represented 17% of all college administrators; 16% of full-time faculty and 13% of college presidents," the report found.
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