According to the most recent reports, experts expect the largest percentage of high school graduates ever to enter college in 1998 (over 70 percent). In addition to the larger numbers and percentages of high school graduates seeking higher education, the entire pool of high school graduates is becoming more diverse in terms of race and ethnicity.
In the fifth edition of its high school graduate projections, The Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) argues that the generation of high school graduates coming of age at the turn of the century will bring new challenges to the nations system of higher education. Knocking at the College Door suggests that in the year 2000, higher education will face the largest pool of high school graduates ever and a pool that is more racially and ethnically diverse than previous generations.
By 2008, the West will face a high school graduating population in which there will be no single majority racial/ethnic group. While the demographics vary from region to region, every area of the country will face increasingly more diverse cohorts of students.
WICHEs report concentrates on projections of elementary and secondary enrollments and high school graduation rates. The report notes that the United States is becoming a nation of multiple minorities with no majority group. From 1996 to 2001, African American, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian/Pacific Islander and Latino students will represent higher percentages of students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools while the percentages of White, non-Latino students will drop.
In terms of students graduating from public high schools between 1996 and 2001, American Indian/Alaskan Natives, Asian/Pacific Islanders, and Latino/as will see percentage increases of 32 percent, 31 percent, and 30 percent, respectively. During the same period, African American graduates will increase by 12 percent and White non-Latino graduates will increase by only 8 percent. These patterns will affect each racial/ethnic groups proportional share of public high school graduates from 1996 to 2001.
Whereas the proportion held by African Americans will remain unchanged at 13 percent, the American Indian/Alaskan Native share will increase slightly from 0.9 to 1.1 percent and the Asian/Pacific Islander share will increase from 4.4 to 5.2 percent. The largest share increase will be among Latino/as, as this group increases from 9.5 percent to 11.1 percent of all public high school graduates. WICHE notes that with the increases in these groups, there must be a corresponding decline, and that decline will come among White non-Latino/as as they fall from 72.1 to 69.6 percent of graduates.
These trends represent not only a challenge to, but a remarkable opportunity for higher education in the 21st century. Many colleges and universities are already working very hard to develop effective initiatives designed to serve these more diverse populations of students better and, most importantly, to make positive educational use of Americas increasing diversity.
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The dramatic changes in the demographic composition of the youth and higher education populations are interesting to the media because they foretell changes to the workforce, the electorate, and the nation as a whole. Think about potential news stories that highlight the impact of the changing student body, such as newly organized student groups, curriculum changes, or stories that demonstrate how students are learning from each other in new ways.
Then propose stories to feature and education writers at local newspapers, or to the more serious and thoughtful radio or television talk shows in your market. Or write an op/ed piece (a guest editorial) that highlights some of the ways the increased diversity of the student body is enhancing and improving learning.
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