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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Equal Opportunity and Higher Education - Fact Sheet

Americans for a Fair Chance - January 1, 2004

Equal opportunity is a tool to provide qualified individuals with equal access to opportunities. Equal opportunity programs, including recruitment, outreach, and d have played a critical role in providing individuals with access to educational and professional opportunities they would otherwise have been denied despite their strong qualifications.

Although progress has been made over the last 30 years, ensuring equal opportunity for women and minorities remains an elusive goal. Further, access to higher education is essential to the development of a broadly based, well-educated citizenry, a diverse and talented workforce, competitiveness in the global economy, reduced poverty and crime, strong families and communities, and enhanced health and prosperity in our nation. Continued use of equal opportunity in higher education admissions policies is necessary to help break down barriers and ensure that all Americans have a fair chance to demonstrate their talents and abilities.

Equal Opportunity is a compelling state interest

  • "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity" ... "All members of our heterogeneous society must have confidence in the openness and integrity of the educational institutions that provide this training." -- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing the majority opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger, June 2003
  • On June 23, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered its landmark ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, concerning the University of Michigan Law School's admissions policies. In a 5 to 4 decision, the majority ruled that student body diversity is a compelling state interest that can justify using race in university admissions.
  • On June 23, 2003, the Supreme Court delivered a ruling in Gratz v. Bollinger, which involved a challenge to the undergraduate admissions program used at the University of Michigan. The undergraduate program used a system that assigned points for certain factors including race, while the law school took a more holistic approach, resulting in an overall score for each applicant. In a 6 to 3 opinion written by Chief Justice Rehnquist, the Court held in Gratz that the university's use of race in this program was not narrowly tailored to achieve the university's asserted interest in diversity.

Equal opportunity programs in education ensure that qualified African-American men and women have equal access to higher education.

  • Equal opportunity programs have worked to increase diversity and correct patterns of discrimination. As a result of such initiatives, African Americans showed the largest increase in the number of doctoral degrees awarded from 1990 to 2000; however African Americans still account for only 5.1 percent of all doctoral degrees earned. (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003)
  • Between 1999-2000 and 2000-2001, African Americans experienced a 6 percent increase in associate degrees earned, a 3 percent rise in bachelor's degrees earned, and a 6.7 percent gain in master's degrees earned. However, overall from 1998 to 2000, only 39.7 percent of African-American high school graduates attended college, as compared to 45.6 percent of white high school graduates. (Twentieth Annual Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education, American Council on Education, 2003)

Equal opportunity programs in education ensure that qualified American Indian men and women have equal access to higher education.

  • The number of American Indians enrolled in higher education has increased in small increments over the past 20 years, but still remains low at less than 1 percent of all higher education students in 2000-2001. (Twentieth Annual Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education, American Council on Education, 2003)
  • Almost 12 percent of eligible American Indians completed a bachelor's degree or higher in 2000 compared to 9 percent in 1990 and 8 percent in 1980 -- still lower than 24 percent for the total population in 2000. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000)
  • Equal opportunity efforts such as recruiting and outreach have set the stage for increases in the enrollment levels of American Indians at institutions of higher education. Between 1980-2001, American Indian enrollment increased by 80 percent. (Twentieth Annual Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education, American Council on Education, 2003)
  • Overall, there has been little growth for professional degrees and decline for doctoral degrees among minorities. In 2000-2001, there was a 3 percent decline in doctorates awarded to minorities from 1999-2000. Also, in 2000-2001 American Indians experienced an 11.8 percent decline in doctorates received from the previous year, representing the lowest number of doctorates earned among all racial and ethnic minority groups. (Twentieth Annual Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education, American Council on Education, 2003)

Equal opportunity programs in education ensure that qualified Asian Pacific American men and women have equal access to higher education.

  • Equal opportunity has been very successful in increasing the representation of minorities in institutions of higher education. From 1990 to 2001, the percentage of Asian Americans who received bachelor's degrees almost doubled. For the school year 1990-1991, the percentage of Asian Americans receiving bachelor's degrees was 3.8 percent; it was 6.3 percent in 2000-2001. (Twentieth Annual Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education, American Council on Education, 2003)
  • Asian Pacific Americans achieved dramatic increases in all degree categories from 1990 to 2001. In 1990-1991, 3.4 percent of Asian Americans received master's degrees, and in 2000-2001, 5.2 percent did. (Twentieth Annual Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education, American Council on Education, 2003)
  • Before Proposition 209 passed in California, Asian Pacific Americans constituted 18.3 percent of the University of California Law School class (1994 to '96). Between 1997 and '99, Asian Pacific Americans constituted 17.4 percent of the class. By contrast, Caucasian Americans' enrollment figures increase by about 12 percent. Overall, Caucasian Americans accounted for 59.8 percent of enrollment in the state law schools during the three years before the ban, but 71.7 percent after the ban. (Kidder, William C. "Situating Asian Pacific Americans in the Law School Affirmative Action Debate: Empirical Facts About Thernstrom's Rhetorical Acts," 2000)

Equal opportunity programs in education ensure that qualified Latinos have equal access to higher education.

  • Although an increasing number of Hispanics are earning degrees at different levels of higher education -- 11.1 percent increase for associate degrees, 3.6 percent increase for bachelor's degrees, and 11.9 percent increase for master's degrees -- the overall enrollment of Hispanics in institutions of higher education are still low. In fact, high school completion rates from 1998 to 2000 for Hispanics 18- to 24-years-old (59.4 percent) were considerably lower than both African Americans (75.5 percent) and whites (87.0 percent). (Twentieth Annual Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education, American Council on Education, 2003)
  • Although there has been an overall increase of Hispanic enrollment at institutions of higher education, this increase is reflected primarily in two-year institutions that award associate degrees. U.S. Census data indicate, further, that the income of associate degree holders is far less than their counterparts; associate degree holders earning only 73.2 percent of bachelor’s degree holders and 61.3 percent of master’s degree holders. (“The Big Payoff: Educational Attainment and Synthetic Estimates of Work-Life Earnings,” Current Population Reports, U.S. Census Bureau, 2002)
  • In the absence of equal opportunity in California, Latinos experienced a decline in enrollment at institutions of higher education. For example, after Proposition 209 was enacted in 1996, the rate of enrollment for Latinos at the University of California at Berkley and the University of California at Los Angeles fell precipitously. At UC Berkeley, new Latino enrollees fell 14.5 percent in 1997 to 7.5 percent in 1998. At UCLA, the rate of Latino enrollees fell from 15.8 percent in 1997 to 11 percent in 1998. (“Percent Plans in College Admissions: A Comparative Analysis of Three States’ Experiences,” The Civil Rights Project, Harvard University at 50, February 2003)

Equal opportunity programs in education not only ensure that women and girls have equal access to quality education but aim to encourage females to enter traditionally male-dominated fields where it is well-documented that salaries are often higher.

  • Although in 2001 women earned 57.3 percent of all bachelor's degrees and 58.5 percent of all master's degrees, they still earned only 46.2 percent of doctorate degrees, and remain underrepresented in areas not traditionally studied by women. According to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, in 1998 women earned only 17 percent of undergraduate and 12 percent of doctorate degrees in engineering and only about 25 percent of doctorate degrees in math and physical sciences. (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2001)
  • By 2010, one in four new jobs will be “technically-oriented,” or involving computers. However, women still lag far behind in earning computer technology degrees and working in computer technology-related professions. High school girls represent only 17 percent of computer science AP test takers and college-educated women earn only 27 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer science (down from 37 percent in 1984) and 16.3 percent of doctorate degrees in computer science. Overall, women comprise roughly 20 percent of IT professionals. (“Tech Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age,” American Association for University Women, 2000)

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