RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — 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 true of the country overall.
The milestone is noted in a fact book to be released today by the nonprofit Southern Regional Education Board.
In the 16 states measured, including the border states Kentucky, Delaware, West Virginia and Maryland, the number of blacks enrolled in colleges has risen by more than half in the past decade. They now make up 21 percent of college students and 19 percent of the overall population.
Educators stressed that the number should not obscure the persistent achievement 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.”
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 increases have been reported 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 in the past decade.