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Public Colleges Increasingly Separate and Unequal

Only 8 percent of freshman at Pennsylvania’s 3 selective public universities are black. (pxhere)
Only 8 percent of freshman at Pennsylvania’s 3 selective public universities are black. (pxhere)
November 13, 2018

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A new study shows that selective public colleges nationwide admit disproportionately low numbers of black and Latino students, while receiving more funding per student.

The study, from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, found that all 41 states that have selective public colleges fund them at higher rates per student than their open enrollment colleges. But black and Latino students are underrepresented in almost all those publicly funded schools.

According to Martin Van Der Werf, associate director of editorial and postsecondary policy at the center and co-author of the report, that also holds true in the Keystone State where black students are underrepresented at the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State and Temple University.

"In Pennsylvania 13 out of every 100 young adults, college age, are black,” Van Der Werf said; “but only eight out of every 100 selective public college freshmen in Pennsylvania are black."

He said selective college admissions rely heavily on SAT scores, but those scores aren't reliable indicators of college success.

Van Der Werf contends SAT scores reflect the quality of prior schooling and parental educational attainment, factors that favor white students. And selective public college admissions mirror the unequal funding of the K-12 system.

"We give more resources to the wealthier districts,” he said. “The wealthier districts produce students who do better on the tests, those students go on to selective colleges and things just don't tend to change over time."

He said wealthier school districts tend to serve more white children. Van Der Werf said he believes selective public colleges need to take a more holistic approach to admissions.

"That they accept students from a broader cross-section of the public, because these universities ought to be serving the broad cross-section of all people in that state,” he said.

According to the report, 38 percent of white Americans have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 23 percent of black Americans and only 17 percent of Latinos.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA