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Report says IL Higher Education is Separate but Unequal

New research says black students are severely under-represented at Illinois' selective public colleges. (COD Newsroom/Flickr)
New research says black students are severely under-represented at Illinois' selective public colleges. (COD Newsroom/Flickr)
November 13, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Public college students in Illinois are being split into two separate and unequal tracks, according to new research released today.

A report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce showed white students are disproportionately represented at selective public colleges, comprising 64 percent of freshman enrollment, even though they represent only about half of the college-age population. And in Illinois, report co-author Martin Van Der Werf explained, black students are severely under-represented at these schools.

“Eighteen out of every 100 Illinois college-age young adults are black, but only about nine out of every 100 Illinois selective public college freshmen are black,” Van Der Werf said. “So their representation is only about half of their distribution of the population."

Latinos fare a bit better, accounting for 18 out of 100 freshman at Illinois selective public colleges, compared to 20 out of every 100 Illinois college-age young adults generally. Illinois State University, the University of Illinois Chicago, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are considered selective public colleges.

Van Der Werf said admissions policies that rely heavily on standardized testing are problematic because they are not a reliable predictor of college graduation rates; rather, he said, they’re an indicator of the quality of K-12 schooling.

"Whites do better on standardized tests. Latinos do second best and blacks, of the three groups, they do the worst,” Van Der Werf said. “And so when you rely on testing as an entry measure, whites are always going to do better."

The report found Illinois is one of just eight states that provide more per-student funding to open-access public colleges than to elite public colleges. However, selective public colleges in Illinois spend almost four times as much on instructional and academic support per student.

Van Der Werf said how this money is spent matters, and not just to the students.

"States are funding these colleges; all taxpayers are paying for them,” he said. “And so we wanted to look at who is actually being served by these colleges; because if everyone's paying for these colleges arguably they ought to be serving all members of the public."

Van Der Werf added spending differences are directly connected to a wide variation in graduation rates. At elite public colleges, students have an 85 percent chance of graduating, compared with just 51 percent at an open-access public college. And he contends it's contributing to blacks and Latinos falling farther behind white students in bachelor's degree attainment.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL