The Cavalier Daily
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Underprivileged fall into education gap

THE GAP is still there, yawning wide. Considerable distance remains between the privileged and the disadvantaged. Education has the power to close that gap, to give the disadvantaged the tools to improve their lives. But a recent study suggests that the gap is widening in education as well, threatening to deny minority groups the chance to achieve. If we care about diversity at all, as an ideal or even as a mere means to economic success, we must take steps to correct the imbalance by funding programs that increase educational opportunities for minorities.

The study, "Investing in People: Developing All of America's Talent on Campus and in the Workplace," released by the Business-Higher Education Forum, quantifies the gap in education between whites and underrepresented minorities. While 90 percent of white American adults had finished high school as of 1998, only 67 percent of Hispanics had done so. Results at the college level are similar: 28 percent of white Americans held bachelor's degrees in 2000, compared to less than 17 percent of blacks and 11 percent of Hispanics.

The report draws the connection between the lack of diversity in education and economic consequences. Minority groups continue to grow as a proportion of the population, but these increases are not showing up in education. While the college-age population will grow by about 15 percent in the next 15 years, 80 percent of these individuals will be nonwhite. If minorities continue to be underrepresented in education, millions of these people will be shut out of the educational system - and, likewise, out of skilled jobs. The study projects that by 2028 there will be 19 million more jobs than workers who are adequately trained to fill them ("Lack of Diversity in Higher Education Could Result in Worker Shortage," Chronicle of Higher Education, Jan. 11).

This points to one consequence of our continued failure to boost the proportions of minorities in the educational system. America's most valuable economic resource is its diverse citizenry. We can't compete with the rest of the world in the realm of unskilled labor. We can compete, though, in the realm of skilled jobs and service industries. But that takes education, and if we don't include minorities in that project, we will exclude a large number of people from the working world and betray our economic potential in the process.

Perhaps the more important consequences, though, are social. Are we happy living in a society that continues to condone barriers to achievement for racial and ethnic minorities? Can we accept a society that rewards privilege at least as much as hard work, a society in which skin color and background can open or close as many doors as ambition?

Related Links

  • The Racial Education Gap
  • If not, what can we do to change it? We can stop faulting minorities for being underrepresented in the educational system, and start taking active steps to boost participation. Initiatives to increase educational opportunities for minorities must start at the very beginning - with better funding for and better access to programs like Head Start, better facilities, much better pay for teachers in poorer schools, and scholarships to train more members of minority groups as teachers. These steps will help create an environment in which a lifetime of learning begins, with positive role models and the materials to learn that an education provides power and control over one's life.

    Such programs must continue at the college level. Federal funding for Pell grants must increase; the maximum grant last year was a paltry $3,750, which hardly covers even room and board at most schools. Schools need to earmark money for minority recruitment programs beginning in ninth grade to encourage students to continue on to college. College admissions processes should all be allowed to evaluate whole people, in the context of their life experiences, rather than just on disembodied GPAs and SAT scores. Race must be allowed to play a role in admissions.

    These initiatives will take money, of course. But that's no reason not to pursue them. Change takes resources. Instead of drooling greedily for our tax rebate checks, we might recognize that even without them, we already have more than most, and that investing in a more egalitarian society benefits us all. At the very least, we can accept that minorities play a key role in our collective economic fate. But we should recognize, too, that how we treat the least privileged in our society speaks to the kind of people we are and the values we have. We shouldn't tolerate the gap any longer.

    (Bryan Maxwell's column normally appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at


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