Study: Black and Latino students missing out on selective colleges

Members of the graduation class of 2013 stand during the commencement ceremony before U.S. President Barack Obama delivers the key address at Morehouse College on May 19, 2013 in Atlanta, Ga.

If you imagine the American dream as a large red, white and blue balloon, our education system could be seen as a very sharp pin just waiting for something to pop.

A new study from Georgetown University, "Separate and Unequal,"  finds that although more Hispanics and African-Americans are going to college -- their access to the most selective schools isn't keeping pace.

According to Tony Carnevale, the study’s author and director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, there are major perks for white students that their classmates are just not getting.

“This is not about old-fashioned vulgar racism. This is about the way the mechanics of our economy and education system are working together to produce racial inequality, across generations,” he says.

Over the course of his or her lifetime a white college graduate from one of the most selective schools can earn $2 million more, than a student who attends a less selective institution.

“In the end, the school you go to, whether it’s not selective or not, matters -- because money matters," says Carnevale.

Those most selective colleges -- the study identifies 468 of them -- spend more per student than less selective schools, from twice to nearly five times as much. That leads to higher graduation rates, which in turn can lead students more smoothly to graduate school.

But even though more African-American and Latino students are going to college, they’re not going to those top schools at the same rate as white students -- even if the students are equally qualified. Remember that Carnevale says this isn’t a result of outright racism;  instead, has says, it’s that people are just really good at passing down privilege between generations,  and white parents are more likely to have to gone to college.

Noliwee Rooks, author of "White Money/Black Power: The History of African American Studies and the Crisis of Race in Higher Education" and a professor of Africana studies at Cornell University, says when one segment of the American population falls behind it affects the whole.

“The way to ensure that intergenerational poverty is not passed on is through education. At the national, at the community and at the individual level, this kind of inequality ensures that these gaps continue and it’s not good for anyone,” she says.

Education, Rooks says, isn’t helping move some minorities forward; instead, it’s holding them back.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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