Sep 222011
Authors: Andrew Carrera

While a recent hike in minority enrollment at CSU is outpacing increases across the nation, test scores released in September suggest that while diverse students are going to college, it could be because of student population increases, not rising educational attainment.

CSU reported its largest-ever increase in Latino enrollment during the 2009-2010 school year, seeing a jump of 18 percent.

The Pew Hispanic Center credited this spike to “rising educational attainment,” calling it “the more dominant driver of these enrollment trends, over the long term as well as in recent years,” in a report this August. It also cited a national 3 percent increase in the amount of Latino high school graduates between 2009-2010.

But such claims of educational attainment run counter to recently released 2011 Colorado ACT scores, which show continuing gaps by race and ethnicity in how students perform on average in standardized tests.

With a perfect ACT score being 36, the average state score among Latino, African American and American Indian students was 15.6 in 2002. For white students, it was 20.3, meaning the achievement gap was marked by a 4.7 point score difference.

Nine years later, the gap persists. In 2011, the score was an average of 16.9 among minority test-takers, and 21.5 for their white peers, which spells out a 4.6 score difference.

“We appear to be making progress because we have more minority students on campus,” said Mary Ontiveros, vice president for diversity at CSU. “But the (educational attainment) gap continues.”

She said the issue stems in part from the state’s lack of financial support for its schools.

Colorado has increasingly shifted the cost burden of going to school onto the shoulders of students, who are in the midst of a 29 percent tuition hike from 2010-2013. With the price of college on the rise, the ability for students to attend institutions of higher education are on the decline.

“…Education funding in the state of Colorado is not in a good place. There are other states that give much more to K-12 and higher education,” Ontiveros said.

Ontiveros added that the state has made progress in closing the difference in achievement by race and ethnicity. Colorado moved from having the largest, to the second largest educational attainment gap over the past year.

“That’s nothing to write home about,” she said.

Ontiveros also credits the recent hike in minority student enrollment at CSU largely to there simply being more minority students in Colorado, instead of academic improvement among diverse youth.

According to U.S. census data, the Latino share of the state population increased 41 percent from 2000 to 2010, from 735,601 to one million. Latinos are now Colorado’s second-largest population group, and represent 21 percent of its residents.

The state’s increase in diverse students on campus, despite a virtually unchanging ethnic achievement gap, is a metaphor for the nation, which faces a similar paradox.

SAT scores nationwide dropped in 2011 among minority students. Latino, African American and American Indian students performed more poorly than in 2010 in every category compared to white students, including critical reading, math and writing by approximately two points on average.

James Montoya, vice president of higher education relationship development at the College Board, the corporation behind the SAT, attributed the decrease in scores in a news conference to “devastating” inequities in American society in terms of the quality of high schools attended by students from different socioeconomic groups.

While the achievement gap has stayed the same nationwide, the U.S. Latino population has skyrocketed. Census data in 2010 shows the Hispanic population increased by 15.2 million between 2000 and 2010 and accounted for more than half of the total U.S. population increase of 27.3 million. Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population grew by 43 percent, or four times the nation’s 9.7 percent growth rate.

The Pew Hispanic Center’s recent report shows Hispanic enrollment on college campuses across the U.S. grew by 24 percent from 2009-2010. While the center acknowledges that the increase is partially due to the spiking Latino population, it maintains that the dominant driver of higher enrollment numbers is rising educational attainment, despite continuing gaps by race and ethnicity in how students perform on average on the standardized test.

“We cannot lose sight of the fact that the educational attainment gap continues,” Ontiveros said.

Senior Reporter Andrew Carrera can be reached at

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