Science + Technology

African Americans remain underrepresented, underserved in state's higher education system

Despite California's significant number of African American residents, the state has seen a disproportionate decline in African American males in higher education, according to a new report from the UCLA CHOICES project and the College Access Project for African Americans, a project of the UCLA Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.
"Till Victory Is Won: The African American Struggle for Higher Education in California" explores the reasons behind the underrepresentation of African Americans in higher education and opens a broader dialogue related to educational equity, student access and achievement.
"Historically, African Americans are disproportionately excluded or underserved by California's higher education system," said study co-author Walter Allen, UCLA's Allan Murray Cartter Professor of Higher Education and director of CHOICES, which addresses African American and Latino access, equity and diversity in education. "Additionally, blacks are overrepresented among the state's poor and incarcerated. 
"Affirmative action policies that were previously successful in improving representation of blacks and other disadvantaged students are now either dismantled or greatly restricted. Ironically, African Americans who were at the forefront of the successful struggle to open America's colleges and universities to more diverse participation now face exclusion from California's and the nation's most prestigious institutions," he said.
Significant findings from the report include:
  • Chronic underrepresentation of African Americans in California higher education is a result of historic, systemic and persistent racial inequities in K–12 educational opportunities and restricted access to postsecondary programs.
  • African American high school graduates are not graduating from college at rates equal to their white and Asian peers.
  • Higher education in California displays characteristics of segregation: Whites and Asians disproportionately enroll at University of California campuses, while African Americans and Latinos most often attend California State University campuses and California community colleges.
  • Higher education opportunities in California reflect extreme socioeconomic inequities in which the poor subsidize higher education for the rich.
  • Proposition 209, which banned consideration of race in public contracting, education and employment, has had a disproportionately negative effect on African American participation in California higher education.
  • California prisons house mostly poor, uneducated inmates of color.
  • The state has a growing gender gap in which females outnumber males in college eligibility, high school graduation and college enrollment.
  • The current state economic crisis has further reduced educational opportunities for African Americans in the UC and CSU systems.
"This report reveals findings that can no longer be ignored," Allen said. "The diminished, declining opportunities for blacks and other underrepresented students of color in California higher education threaten the state's economic, democratic and cultural vibrancy.
"Failure to offer equitable opportunities not only places African Americans at risk, it risks America's future," he said.
Data for the study was drawn from information collected by the California Postsecondary Education Commission and the California Department of Education on trends in California high schools, community colleges, the California State University system, the University of California system, and private universities and colleges.
In addition to Allen, report co-authors include Uma M. Jayakumar, a postdoctoral student at the University of Michigan, and Ray Franke, a doctoral student in education at UCLA.
The CHOICES project, housed at UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, seeks to address the problem of persistently low college attendance and graduation rates among California’s African American and Chicano/Latino high school graduates. Additionally, the group aims to understand how the social, political, cultural and economic status of individuals, families and communities is related to improved academic experiences and outcomes for these ethnic groups.
The College Access Project for African Americans (CAPAA) was established by the Bunche Center in 2002 to examine the crisis of severe underrepresentation confronting African Americans in California's institutions of higher education after the repeal of affirmative action through Proposition 209.
The Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA was established in 1969 and is celebrating its 40th anniversary during 2009-2010. The center supports multidisciplinary research that expands knowledge on African American history, culture, arts and other topics.
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