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Race, Ethnicity, and Culture


cultural expectations and student learning
jerome e. morris

latino growth
david e. hayes-bautista

racial and ethnic minority students in higher education
shederick a. mcclendon
lamont a. flowers


Students learnwhether in school or out. Of significance for the educational and scholarly communities is the extent to which certain kinds of learning are conducive to mainstream academic achievement within the context of formal educational institutions. The presumption is that a student's ability to acquire mainstream academic content and then demonstrate mastery of the content (often defined as learning and usually measured by standardized assessments) will lead to greater knowledge and to social and economic benefits in the dominant society. In multiracial and multiethnic societies such as the United States, a pressing issue is the various ways in which race, ethnicity, and culture might influence student learning in formal educational settings. This concern emanates from the fact that scores of students from some racial and ethnic minority groups do not "achieve" in schools at rates comparable either to those of European-American students or to those of students from other racial and ethnic minority groups. In order to examine how students' race, ethnicity, and culture might influence learning, however, one must first examine the assumptions that underlie these concepts.

Race is not a biological category but a social construction that is given meaning and significance in specified historical, political, and social contexts. Historically, race has been predicated on phenotypic characteristics that mark "racial differences" in order to legitimate prejudice and discrimination on the basis of these supposed differences. As noted by Michael Omi and Howard Winant in their influential book Racial Formation in the United States (1994), the formation of race is social and historical in nature. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, most within the scholarly community no longer use biosocial terms such as race and embrace ethnicity instead. In the United States and Europe, ethnicity is commonly associated with membership in a non-dominant group (not of predominant European ancestry) and is perceived as constituting a different culturein terms of language, style of dress, political consciousness and worldview, foods, music, and so onthan that of the dominant group. Membership status within ethnic groups can sometimes be negotiated, situational, or optional, particularly for some white ethnics. In comparison to the concept of race, ethnicity is a mutable and more flexible category.

Embracing ethnicity in place of race has shifted the discourse around human difference from one that is biological in nature to one that is greatly shaped by nurture, culture, and historical experiences. The change in terminology, however, does not automatically change the privileges and social disadvantages of being identified and categorized as a member of a particular group. Historically, such identities and categories shaped a number of theoretical perspectives that attempted to explain academic school success or failure among various groups of students. While these perspectives are chronologically outlined below, the fact that one particular paradigm was the dominant paradigm during a particular time period does not mean that other (and equally convincing) paradigms did not also exist. Nor does it mean that theories that once predominated are no longer appropriated as explanatory models.

Theoretical Explanations of Differing Academic Achievement and Learning

Of the proponents of different theoretical perspectives used to explain student achievement, the ones that have provoked the greatest degree of controversythe geneticistsplace ethnicity and race at the center of their thesis. In general, geneticists view race as static and as a major determinant of one's intellectual capabilities.

Geneticists. The geneticists consider the differences in academic achievement among various groups of students (often measured by test scores) as indicative of the innate intelligence of certain groups, rather than a product of socioeconomic, historical, and cultural factors. During the first half of the twentieth century, geneticists such as Lewis Terman and Henry Goddard considered the low performance on intelligence tests of some racial, ethnic, and linguistic minorities to be a reflection of these groups' genetic inferiority. These theorists attempted to "prove" that some European ethnic minorities (Jews, Hungarians, Italians, and Russians) and Native Americans, Mexican Americans, and African Americans were inferior. This perspective, however, did not go unchallenged. African-American social scientists, in particular Horace Mann Bond, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Allison Davis, critiqued the studies that tried to prove African-American intellectual inferiority. Nevertheless, remnants of this belief continue to germinate within the academy, as exemplified by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles H. Murray's 1996 book, The Bell Curve. For instance, in this book the authors assert that a major reason why some groups in society today do not achieve in schools might be connected more to rank-and-file notions of intellectual inferiority than to persistent economic, structural, cultural, and historic forces.

Cultural deprivation. Emanating out of the thrust to eradicate poverty in the United States and rejecting the geneticists' arguments, cultural deprivation theorists during the 1960s viewed academic differences on standardized measures as a result of nurtureor lack thereofrather than nature. Proponents of cultural deprivation theories attributed the academic failure among some ethnic and racial minorities to the failure of some students' families to transmit the values and cultural patterns necessary for the students to achieve in mainstream academic institutions. The deprivation paradigm guided the formulation of most programs and pedagogies for low-income populations during the 1960s such as Head Start and other compensatory educational programs.

Considered enlightened during its time, cultural deprivation theorists believed that schools should assist low-income and racial and ethnic minority students in overcoming deficits caused by their families and communities; the best time to intervene was early childhood. A landmark Research Conference on Education and Cultural Deprivation convened in Chicago, Illinois, in 1964 and included participants such as Benjamin Bloom, Erik Erikson, Edmund Gordon, and Thomas Pettigrew. Influential books that focused on addressing the needs of the "culturally deprived" included The Culturally Deprived Child, by Frank Riessman, published in 1962; Education in Depressed Areas, edited in 1963 by A. Harry Passow; and Compensatory Education for Cultural Deprivation, edited in 1965 by Benjamin Bloom, Allison Davis, and Robert Hess.

Cultural difference and learning styles. Also during the 1960s, anthropologists began to challenge cultural deprivation theories by positing an alternative view of the academic failures of ethnic and racial minority students. This new group of theorists argued that the extent to which students learned or did not learn in schools reflected the cultural differences of the groups, which were either congruent with or incongruent with the dominant culture of schools. Building on this view, sociolinguists during the 1970s followed by asserting that differences in culture resulted in cultural and linguistic conflicts between students and their teachers, many of whom were white. This shifted part of the discourse from the notion that some groups' cultures were deficient toward the notion that cultures varied. An assumption, therefore, was that racially and ethnically diverse students' learning could be enhanced if there was cultural congruence or synchronization between the home and the school, and if the schooling experiences resonated with the unique cognitive or learning styles and cultural patterns of students.

Examples of the scholarship that documented this variation among cultures include Manuel Ramírez III and Alfredo Castañeda's 1974 book Cultural Democracy, Bicognitive Development, and Education, which describes Mexican-American students as field-dependent learners, in comparison to white students who are described as field independent. Native American and African-American students are also considered field-dependent learners. The research on African-American students' cognitive styles has generated much debate in the scholarly community. Significant scholarly contributions include Janice Hale-Benson's 1986 book, Black Children: Their Roots, Culture, and Learning Styles; Barbara J. Shade's 1982 article, "Afro-American Cognitive Styles: A Variable in School Success?"; and A. Wade Boykin's 1986 chapter, "The Triple Quandary and the Schooling of Afro-American Children." In general, these scholars assert that the instructional strategies used in schools do not work well with African-American students, and consequently, many do not experience academic success. Teaching strategies proposed to increase students' academic achievement include creating settings that are conducive to their learning styles such as cooperative environments, informal class discussions, a focus on larger concepts, and the de-emphasis of competition. Nevertheless, while these scholars find great value and potential in the research into learning styles for enhancing the achievement of students from diverse cultural backgrounds, Jacqueline Jordan Irvine and Darlene Eleanor York, in their exhaustive literature review from 1995, "Learning Styles and Culturally Diverse Students: A Literature Review," cautioned against using this body of research to automatically categorize students' styles of learning primarily on the basis of cultural characteristics.

Nevertheless, the cultural difference view of students' schooling experiences will remain a viable explanation because of an increasingly heterogeneous student population in which nonwhite students accounted for more than 30 percent of the school-age population at the end of the twentieth century. On the other hand, the teaching force in the United States is more than 90 percent white. Whereas proponents of the cultural difference paradigm would not assume that all white teachers are unable to teach these students, they would, however, continue to assert that for some students, this imbalance fosters the kind of cultural incongruence that leads to school failure. The curriculum and the school environment serve as major areas in which this incongruence becomes manifested.

Multicultural perspective. With roots in the ethnic studies movement of the 1960s, multicultural education and cultural-centered approaches suggest infusing a multicultural ethos into schooling experiences, so as to reaffirm the social, cultural, and historical experiences of students from diverse cultural backgrounds. Though varied in the extent of the infusion and the scope of their critique of mainstream education, in general, multiculturalists such as James A. Banks, Geneva Gay, and Carl Grant, as well as proponents of ethnic-centered paradigms such as Molefi Asante (an advocate of Afrocentric education), assert that the European-American culture of schools distorts the history, culture, and background of students from non-European backgrounds. They note that the knowledge that school officials and society expect children to acquire often invalidates these students' cultural experiences. These scholars believe that an infusion of multicultural education and/or cultural-centered education can be part and parcel of the solution to improving the academic achievement of students from these diverse cultural backgrounds. They propose teaching students in ways that are culturally synchronized, culturally centered, empowering, and culturally relevant. This infusion would move beyond an additive approach and would transform the entire schooling experiences for students. Published sources that capture the arguments and critiques of multicultural and cultural-centered education include Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action, edited by Banks and published in 1996, and Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education, edited by Banks and Cherry A. McGee Banks and published in 1995.

Structural explanations. Still another view subscribes to the notion that larger societal forces are key determinants of student learning, as are the cultural forces within a particular ethnic or racial community. For example, this view asserts that race, ethnicity, and culture are more likely to predict what educators and schools expect of students, rather than whether students will learn and achieve in schools. Proponents of this view note how some educators often create a self-fulfilling prophecy in relation to students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds: Teachers' expectations of students greatly shape student learning and achievement. Structural inequalities that can have deleterious consequences for students' learning may entail the limited access to knowledge and resources, the systematic denial of formal schooling, state-sanctioned discrimination, and gross disparities in the level of school funding. Moreover, proponents of this view assert that contemporary examples of structural inequalities include differential levels of quality teaching for some students, as well as the disproportionate placement of some racial and ethnic minority group members into the lowest academic tracks. African-American and Latino students are disproportionately placed in lower academic tracks, in comparison to white and Asian students. Jeannie Oakes's book on academic tracking, Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality, published in 1985, and Kenneth J. Meier, Joseph Stewart Jr., and Robert E. England's 1989 book on second-generation discrimination, Race, Class, and Education: The Politics of Second-Generation Discrimination, were pivotal in bringing to light the structural inequalities embedded in schooling students from diverse racial and ethnic groups.

Differing cultural expectations and the impact on school experiences. Another position within this range of theories suggests that students' learning and achievement in schools reflect the values, beliefs, and traditions of some racial/ethnic groups, which may place a greater or lesser emphasis on achieving in the dominant educational context. John U. Ogbu's scholarship captures the essence of this view by asserting that the extent to which many members of some minority groups fail in mainstream schools can be linked to the way different minority groups enter into a society and, thereby, approach schooling. Ogbu's comparative research on immigrant and nonimmigrant minorities radically shifted the discourse by suggesting that a macro level of analysis should be considered when investigating why students from some minority groups achieve in school at greater rates than others.

Using a cultural ecological model to explain school failure, Ogbu developed a typology of ethnic groups based on the groups' entry into the dominant society: voluntary or immigrant minorities (which include Asian Americans, recent African immigrants, and immigrants from the Caribbean) and involuntary or nonimmigrant minority groups such as African Americans and Native Americans. In general, Ogbu noted that voluntary immigrant groups are more likely to accept the dominant achievement ideology, which holds the meritocratic view that hard work and motivation pay off. For example, although Asian-American students might come from different countries and also embrace cultural practices that starkly contrast with the dominant Anglo-American culture of schools, in general these students are more likely to be academically successful in the host society because of the way they approach the schooling process. On the other hand, students from nonimmigrant or involuntary minority groups are least likely to accept the dominant achievement model and are, therefore, more likely to resist schooling.

Building on Ogbu's theory were two 1986 publications: the highly cited article "Black Students' School Success: Coping with the Burden of Acting White," written by Signithia Fordham and Ogbu, and the book To Be Popular or Smart: The Black Peer Group, written by Jawanzaa Kunjufu. The latter work asserted that dominated (involuntary) minority groups develop secondary cultural characteristics as a resistive measure to a dominant white framework. Because of secondary cultural characteristics, some of these students do not achieve for fear of being labeled as trying to "act white." For many of these students, schooling becomes a culturally subtractive, rather than an additive, process.

Ogbu's thesis has been criticized as a "blaming the victim" approach because of its heavy emphasis on those factors and practices of the cultural group that contribute to school failure. Some scholars criticize Ogbu's model for being overly deterministic, note that it fails to capture the variation within groups, and assert that it overgeneralizes about some populations of students. In particular, Carla O'Connor posited in 1999 that ethnographic studies of involuntary immigrant groups (e.g., African-American students) should address the multiplicity of ways that students approach schooling, by also noting the heterogeneity that is present within social groups.

The Future

The literature on how race, ethnicity, and culture affect the learning of students from non-European minority groups in the United States has over-whelmingly focused on school failure, rather than resilience. Nevertheless, an understanding of the various theoretical perspectives that have been used to explain the school performance of students from some racial and ethnic groups provides a backdrop for anticipating future schooling prospects for these children. The issues are complicated because notions of race, ethnicity, and culture are not static concepts and are not so easily definable. Therefore, proceeding with caution is essential when appropriating any one particular paradigm to explain how these concepts influence student learning. Clearly some paradigms can be dismissed, while others might be most appropriate given certain contexts. Nevertheless, the influence of race, ethnicity, and culture on students' schooling experiences will continue to be debated well into the twenty-first century.

See also: Compensatory Education; Individual Differences, subentry on Ethnicity; Literacy and Culture; Multicultural Education; Multiculturalism in Higher Education.


Banks, James A., ed. 1996. Multicultural Education, Transformative Knowledge, and Action: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. New York: Teachers College Press.

Banks, James A., and Banks, Cherry A. McGee, eds. 1995. Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education. New York: Macmillan.

Bloom, Benjamin; Davis, Allison; and Hess,

Robert, eds. 1996. Compensatory Education for Cultural Deprivation. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Boykin, A. Wade. 1986. "The Triple Quandary and the Schooling of Afro-American Children." In The School Achievement of Minority Children, ed. Ulric Neisser. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Foley, Douglas E. 1991. "Reconsidering Anthropological Explanations of School Failure." Anthropology and Education Quarterly 22:6086.

Fordham, Signithia, and Ogbu, John U. 1986.

"Black Students' School Success: Coping with the Burden of Acting White." Urban Review 18:176206.

Hale-Benson, Janice E. 1986. Black Children: Their Roots, Culture, and Learning Styles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Herrnstein, Richard J., and Murray, Charles. 1996. The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Irvine, Jacqueline Jordan, and York, Darlene

Eleanor. 1995. "Learning Styles and Culturally Diverse Students: A Literature Review." In Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education, ed. James A. Banks and Cherry A. McGee Banks. New York: Macmillan.

Kunjufu, Jawanzaa. 1986. To Be Popular or Smart: The Black Peer Group. Chicago: African American Images.

Meier, Kenneth J.; Stewart, Joseph, Jr.; and England, Robert E. 1989. Race, Class, and Education: The Politics of Second-Generation Discrimination. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Oakes, Jeannie. 1985. Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

O'Connor, Carla. 1999. "Race, Class, and Gender in America: Narratives of Opportunity among Low-Income African American Youths." Sociology of Education 72:137157.

Ogbu, John U. 1978. Minority Education and Caste: The American System in Cross-Cultural Perspective. New York: Academic Press.

Ogbu, John U. 1991. "Immigrant and Involuntary

Minorities in Comparative Perspective." In Minority Status and Schooling: A Comparative Study of Immigrant and Involuntary Minorities, ed. John Ogbu and Margaret Gibson. New York: Garland.

Omi, Michael, and Winant, Howard. 1994. Racial Formation in the United States, 2nd edition. New York: Routledge.

Passow, A. Harry, ed. 1963. Education in Depressed Areas. New York: New York Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University.

RamÍrez, Manuel, III, and CastaÑeda, Alfredo. 1974. Cultural Democracy, Bicognitive Development, and Education. New York: Academic Press.

Riessman, Frank. 1962. The Culturally Deprived Child. New York: Harper.

Shade, Barbara J. 1982. "Afro-American Styles: A Variable in School Success?" Review of Educational Research 52:219244.

Terman, Lewis. 1916. The Measure of Intelligence: An Explanation of and a Complete Guide for the Use of the Stanford Revision and Extension of the Binet-Simon Intelligence Scale. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Waters, Mary C. 1990. Ethnic Options: Choosing Identities in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Jerome E. Morris


The 2000 U.S. census counted 35.3 million Latinos in the fifty states (and counted 39.1 million if the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is included). By 2010, the Latino population of the United States is projected to be 45.1 million, at which time this country will have a larger Spanish-speaking population than Spain, Colombia, or Argentina, and will trail only Mexico. By 2050, the U.S. Latino population is projected to be around 96.5 million, and one out of every four U.S. residents will be a Latino.

During the last half of the twentieth century, the Latino population was concentrated in nine states. In 2000, these nine states still had the largest Latino population (11.0 million in California, 6.7 million in Texas, 3.8 million in Puerto Rico, 2.9 million in New York, 2.7 million in Florida, 1.5 million in Illinois, 1.3 million in Arizona, 1.1 million in New Jersey, and 1.0 million in New Mexico), and 82 percent of all Latinos in the United States lived in those areas. However, Latino population growth has occurred in many states not traditionally thought of as Latino population strongholds, such as Georgia, Iowa, and Pennsylvania.

Most Latino population growth is due to births, rather than immigration. As a result, the school-age population in many areas will have a higher percentage of Latinos than the overall population. In California, 43.8 percent of all children age eighteen and under are Latino; 40.5 percent in Texas; 50.8 percent in New Mexico; and 36.1 percent in Arizona.

Immigration has been a secondary, but important, factor in Latino population growth. Some states such as California and Florida received a large number of Latino immigrants from 1960 through 2000, while others such as New Mexico and Colorado received relatively few.

Educational Attainment

The educational attainment of the Latino population in 2000 was generally lower than non-Latino populations in the same area. Nationally, a lower percentage of Latino adults (57.0%) age twenty-five and older have graduated from high school, compared with 88.4 percent of non-Hispanic whites. However, the Latino figure needs to be taken with caution, for it combines the educational attainment of two very different Latino groups: the U.S.-born and immigrant Latino adults.

Generally, Latino immigrants have far lower educational attainment than U.S.-born Latinos. In the 1998 California Current Population Survey conducted by the U.S. Census, 75.1 percent of U.S.-born Latinos age twenty-five and older had graduated from high school, while only 38.1 percent of immigrant Latino adults had done so. In California, of Latino adults age 20 to 39, 62.2 percent are immigrants. Combining the educational attainment levels of both groups gives a blended picture that misses important educational dynamics: Latino immigrants tend to be young adults who do not immigrate to seek education, but to join the labor force. Hence, even though they have low educational levels, their behaviorhigh labor force participation, low welfare utilization, strong family formationis not typical of high school dropouts. U.S.-born Latinos who do not complete high school are closer to the image of the high school dropout, in that their labor force participation is lower, welfare utilization rates higher, and family formation lower than immigrants with far lower educational levels.


U.S.-born Latinos are usually either monolingual English speaking or are bilingual, but with an ability to speak English very well. Immigrant Latinos usually start as monolingual Spanish speakers, but over the course of the years acquire some facility in English. School-age Latino children are overwhelmingly U.S.-born; 90.2 percent of Latino children age five through nine in California were U.S.-born in 2000. Not surprisingly, most Latino children speak English well, in addition to speaking Spanish. In the 1990 census, 85 percent of Latino children age five through seventeen in Los Angeles spoke English well, as did 87 percent of children in Miami, 86 percent of children in Chicago, 92 percent of children in San Antonio, and 88 percent of Latino children in New York.

While Latino children are predominantly U.S.-born, in states such as California, Texas, Florida, and New York, the parents are largely immigrant (in 2000, 62% of Latino children in California had at least one immigrant parent). These largely immigrant parents are less fluent in English. As measured by the 1990 census indicator of limited English proficiency (not to speak English at all, or not to speak it very well) in Latino adults age nineteen to sixty-four, 37 percent in Los Angeles, 35 percent in Miami, 32 percent in Chicago, and 28 percent in New York were not functional in English. Only in San Antonio were few parents12 percentnot able to communicate well in English.

Latino parents want their children to learn English. A survey conducted in Los Angeles County in 2000 showed that 98 percent of U.S.-born Latino parents and 96 percent of immigrant Latino parents agreed that their children should be taught English in the schools. However, Latino parents also want their children to know how to speak Spanish. In the same Los Angeles county survey, 96 percent of U.S.-born Latino parents and 98 percent of immigrant Latino parents wanted their children to speak Spanish. Interestingly, 86 percent of non-Hispanic white parents and 90 percent of African-American parents also wanted their children to learn to speak Spanish. In that population-based survey, the only group that did not agree with the notion of children learning to speak Spanish were non-Hispanic whites who were not parents of children.

Latinos and Race

The largely "mixed race" (or mestizo) Latino population has never fit comfortably into the U.S. biracial algorithm. In the 1930 census, Latinos of Mexican origin were considered a separate race, distinct from white, black, Indian, or Asian. Certainly, racial exclusion policy such as segregated schools, segregated public facilities, and restricted residential areas treated Latinos as a race. But in 1940, the Census Bureau reversed itself and counted Latinos as members of the white race. In spite of being classified racially as white, Latinos were still subject to racial restrictions.

In 1973 the Federal Office of Management and Budget developed a definition of the word Hispanic that was not a racial category, nor a national origin category, but a sui generis category, defined by the U.S. Census in 1993 as "those who indicated that their origin was Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or some other Hispanic origin." In the 1980 and 1990 censuses, a person had to chose first a racial category, then declare if he or she were Hispanic, in addition to the chosen racial category. In the 2000 census, all respondents were asked first to determine if they were Hispanic, then later to select a race, or combination of races. As Latinos may be any combination of Indian, European, African and Asian, the majority in many states (such as California) did not choose any of the racial categories offered (white, black, Indian, or Asian) but instead chose the residual category "Other," often writing in terms such as mestizo or "raza. " In 1993 the U.S. census reported that "it should be noted that persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race." The Mexican author Carlos Fuentes best summed up the mestizo background of many Latinos when he described that he was "Indo-Afro-Ibero-American."

Latinos and Culture

Modern Latino culture is the outgrowth of the meeting of indigenous, Iberian, African, and some Asian populations in most of the western hemisphere. The proportion of these elements varies from place to place in Latin America, with some regions more markedly indigenous (Mexico, Peru, Bolivia), others more markedly African (Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba) others more markedly European (Argentina, Uruguay, Chile). Unlike the "Indian removal" policy followed in the United States, during the colonial period the Spanish Crown sought to incorporate indigenous populations into its realms, where they provided a population base for cultural development. The devastating smallpox epidemics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries reduced the native populations by nearly 95 percent. The hemisphere became gradually repopulated, but with an increasingly mestizo population that embodied a fusion of the various population, hence cultural, inputs. While Castilian Spanish was imposed as an official language spoken by a small ruling minority shortly after the Conquest, it is spoken by around 95 percent of residents of Latin America in the early twenty-first century, but with distinctive vocabulary and accents in various regions, again reflecting the process of cultural fusion unique to each region.

In the southwest United States, Latino culture antedated the arrival of Atlantic-American culture, hence the names of many towns are in Spanish, such as Los Angeles, San Antonio, Nogales, and Santa Fe. The meeting of Latino and Atlantic-American cultures in that region gave rise to the "cowboy culture," often considered worldwide to be the quintessential American image. In the northeast, Latino culture arrived during the last half of the twentieth century, along with the waves of immigrants from Latin America. Modern communications such as television, radio, telephones, coupled with a globalization of population made possible by modern transportation, allow Latino cultural regions in the United States to communicate with one another, with the rest of the hemisphere, and with Atlantic-American cultural communities.

While the expectation in the mid-twentieth century was that Latinos would assimilate as had other immigrant groups, the perhaps unique dynamics and nature of Latino culture (a culture of fusion) coupled with population and economic growth, makes it unlikely that it will simply disappear. Instead, it will likely have a two-way dialogue with Atlantic-American culture, which will probably result in some new cultural fusions wherever there are large Latino populations.

See also: Bilingualism, Second Language Learning, and English as a Second Language; Individual Differences, subentry on Ethnicity; Language and Education; Language Minority Students; Literacy and Culture; Multicultural Education; Multiculturalism in Higher Education.


U.S. Census Bureau. 1994. "The Hispanic Population in the United States: March 1993," Current Population Reports, Population Characteristics, Series P20-475. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

David E. Hayes-Bautista


Since the 1960s, profound changes have occurred in minority-student patterns of college attendance and degree attainment in the United States. This change has led to a growing number of racial and ethnic minority students making up a considerable amount of the student population on American college campuses. In 1997 the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that African-American students, Hispanic students, Asian or Pacific Islander students, and Native American/Native Alaskan students constituted approximately 27 percent of the total college enrollment at degree-granting institutions. African-American students, Hispanic students, Asian or Pacific Islander students, and Native American /Native Alaskan students constituted 11 percent, 9 percent, 6 percent, and 1 percent, respectively, of all college students attending two-year and four-year institutions.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of racial and ethnic minority students who were awarded degrees increased dramatically between the years of 1976 and 1998. Specifically, the number of bachelor's degrees awarded to racial and ethnic minority students increased as follows: African Americans, 58,636 to 98,132; Native American/Native Alaskan students, 3,326 to 7,894; Asian or Pacific Islander students, 13,793 to 71,592; and Hispanic Americans, 18,743 to 65,937. In 1997, 19.4 percent of all bachelor's degrees were awarded to racial and ethnic minority students. In 1998, 20.5 percent of all bachelor's degrees were awarded to racial and ethnic minority students.

Due to the growth in racial and ethnic minority participation in higher education, institutions of higher learning are being asked to provide optimal learning environments, equitable admission standards, and a welcoming environment for students representing a variety of multicultural and ethnic backgrounds. To that end, colleges and universities are confronted with many complex issues, such as addressing the diverse academic and social needs of racial and ethnic minority students in higher education, improving the admission process to account for past legally sanctioned discrimination, helping minority students cope with issues they may face on campus, and offering suitable programs and instituting appropriate policies to help racial and ethnic minority students make successful transitions to college from high school.

The Admissions Process for Racial and Ethnic Minority Students

To be sure, the admissions process for racial and ethnic minority students is similar to the admissions process for all students and includes such phases as making the initial decision to attend college, selecting the type of college to attend, and completing the necessary applications and admissions test required by the college or university. However, due to past racial discrimination and previous legal barriers, colleges and universities have had to consider innovative ways of trying to level the playing field in order to increase the number of racial and ethnic minority students in higher educationand to diversify the U.S. workforce to make it more representative of American society. Accordingly, colleges and universities have instituted two types of programs to aid in the enrollment of racial and ethnic minority students: enrollment programs and transition programs.

Enrollment programs are based on legislative mandates or statues (e.g., Civil Rights Act of 1964, Higher Education Act of 1965). Enrollment programs are primarily instituted to ensure that a percentage of college or university incoming enrollments are members of a racial or ethnic minority group. An example of an enrollment program is the education component of the One Florida Initiative, which mandates that 20 percent of each high school senior class in Florida will receive guaranteed admission to any of the state-supported colleges or universities in Florida. This enrollment program makes it possible to enroll racial and ethnic minority students from low-performing high schools, as well as students that may not otherwise gain admission to college.

Transition programs are defined as programs and related services designed to assist students who may not gain admittance to a college or university through traditional channels. The College Transition Program at Virginia Commonwealth University is an example of a summer transition program designed for high school students who have low scores on admission tests and low high school grade point averages. Transition programs, which enroll a large number of racial and ethnic minority students, also offer cultural enrichment activities that promote college readiness and social integration on campus. Though transition programs vary in type and length, most of them offer a study skills component and courses in mathematics, reading, and/or English composition, which gives students a jump-start on earning college credit. Students who complete a transition program at a particular university are usually guaranteed admission into that university. As such, transition programs also serve to increase the enrollment of racial and ethnic minority students by offering preparatory college instruction to students who may not otherwise be admitted to college.

Issues Faced by Racial and Ethnic Minority Students on Campus

Prior to 1973, the overwhelming majority of African-American college students were enrolled in historically black colleges and universities. In the early twenty-first century, however, predominantly white institutions grant the majority of baccalaureate degrees awarded to African Americans (and other racial and ethnic minority students). This dramatic shift in postsecondary education patterns among minority students naturally leads to questions about their educational experiences and outcomes.

Racial and ethnic minority students face a considerable number of problems once they arrive on campus. Research evidence suggests that racial and ethnic minority students are more likely to experience problems of alienation, marginalization, and loneliness than white students are. Additional evidence suggests that these and other challenges on campus may have either a direct or indirect impact on their academic performance and social development. These students continue to be severely disadvantaged, relative to white students, in terms of persistence rates, academic achievement levels, enrollment in advanced degree programs, and overall psychological adjustments. Some other problems include monocultural curricula, professors' expectations and attitudes, cultural conflicts, institutional racism, lack of support services, isolation, and problems involving socialization and motivation. While college students of all races face many of these challenges, minority students face them in a compounded manner, resulting in higher dropout rates.

Programs and Services for Racial and Ethnic Minority Students on Campus

Many services exist on college campuses to help facilitate a smooth transition for racial and ethnic minority students on campus. These services can be divided into two groups: campus-based programs and federally funded programs.

Campus-based programs. Inequality in higher educational attainment between different racial and ethnic groups continues to be a critical problem. Accordingly, many institutions have developed programs and implemented policies to address the academic and social challenges that many minority students encounter. Though it is the case that minority students are less likely to persist in college than white students are, the persistence gap can be traced to differences in legal discrimination and in the quality of secondary education of both groups. As a group, minority students are more likely to come from poorer backgrounds and have experienced inferior education than their white counterparts. This is not to suggest that all racial and ethnic minority students are disadvantaged, or that all disadvantaged students are members of racial and ethnic minority groups. Some racial and ethnic minority groups (e.g., Asian Americans) have higher rates of educational success than do groups commonly classified as belonging to the ethnic and racial majority. Thus, it is sometimes necessary for institutions to develop programs targeted to the needs of distinct groups of students.

Early contact and transition programs are important not only because they help cement personal affiliations that tie students into the fabric of student culture, but also because they enable the students to acquire useful information about the informal character of institutional life. Thus, to ensure successful programs, it is critical that institutions integrate programs and services within the mainstream of the institution's academic, social, and administrative life. One important component to successful retention programs for racial and ethnic minority students is the establishment of specialized advising and counseling services. Several institutions have established advising programs and designated offices to which racial and ethnic minority students go for many different services. An example of such a program is the New Vision Program at the University of New Orleans. This retention program focuses on academically at-risk students and students who have not met the university's academic standards and subsequently left the institution. To increase graduation and retention rates, these students are allowed to re-enroll at the University of New Orleans and participate in special academic development programs that offer advising sessions, orientations, and instructional assistance.

Having counselors and advisers of like ethnicity is not a requirement of these programs; however, experience has shown that racial and ethnic minority students are inclined to utilize these services when people of color are present. To the degree that racial and ethnic minority students represent a distinct minority on campus, they also face distinct problems in seeking to become integrated into the life of what may appear to be a foreign and hostile college community. The use of support programs and mentor programs has proven to be quite effective in increasing student retention. In many cases, these programs are designed to provide racial and ethnic minority students with faculty mentors or advisers who can provide useful information and advice. In other instances, faculty, and sometimes upper-class students, of similar ethnicity are asked to guide newly arrived racial and ethnic minority students through the institution, or at least through the first year of college. For example, ALANAwhich is an acronym for Asian, Latin, African, and Native Americanis a mentoring program developed at St. Clair County Community College in Port Huron, Michigan. This multifaceted support program focuses on providing academic and social support to freshman students of color through the use of peer mentors.

Many of the challenges that racial and ethnic minority students face on a predominantly white campus reflect the behaviors and attitudes that the students, faculty, and staff have about them. For that reason, an increasing number of institutions have instituted programs designed to educate the broader community on issues of racism and the diversity of cultural traditions that mark American life. Some institutions have even established programs to broaden the repertoire of teaching skills faculty use in the education of diverse student bodies. For example, the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan offers consulting services, seminars, and workshops to faculty members who seek to learn more about how to integrate multiculturalism in the college classroom and how to develop a welcoming and inclusive learning environment. Realizing the many possible categories of institutional types, there is much to be gained from understanding how similar types of institutions have successfully addressed the issue of retention. However, it falls upon the individual institution to assess for itself the most effective approach. The beginning point of any institutional policy consists of an assessment of institutional mission and institutional priorities, as well as an assessment of racial and ethnic minority students' experiences on campus.

Federally funded programs. There are many types of proactive intervention strategies for racial and ethnic minority students. Some are long-term; others focus on the first-year experience. Many of these programs seek to encourage capable students to pursue postsecondary degrees. One such initiative is the federally supported Upward Bound program, established in 1965. Upward Bound was designed to help disadvantaged students enroll in and graduate from postsecondary institutions. A product of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, Upward Bound targets youth between thirteen and nineteen years of age who have experienced low academic success. High school students from low-income families whose parents have not earned a bachelor's degree and military veterans with only a high school diploma are eligible to participate. The program provides fundamental support, such as help with the college admissions process and assistance in preparing for college entrance examinations. It engages students in an extensive, multiyear program designed to provide academic, counseling, and tutoring services, along with a cultural enrichment componentall of which enhance their regular school program prior to entering college.

Most Upward Bound programs also provide participants with college experience through a five-to eight-week, full-time residential summer program at a postsecondary institution. The summer experience is reinforced with weekly tutorial and mentoring services during the school year. Upward Bound, along with four other federal initiatives that are collectively called the TRIO programs, receive funding under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965. Upward Bound currently supports more than 560 projects serving approximately 41,000 students nationwide. The other TRIO initiatives are Talent Search, the Student Support Services program, Educational Opportunity Centers, and the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement program. These programs have much to offer institutions of higher education that seek to improve the educational outcomes of first-generation college students, racial and ethnic minority students, and low-income students.

Taken as a whole, the demographic in institutions of higher education has been changing and becoming increasingly more diverse. There is still a great need for innovative programming and policies to provide realistic guidance and counseling to assist minority students in dealing with academic, social, and economic challenges in college. Minority students come from different backgrounds with different orientations, ideologies, and perspectivesand with different perceptions of success and failure. When institutions properly recognize these differences and deal with them constructively, then they will be better able to address the problems faced by racial and ethnic minority students.

See also: Adjustment to College; Affirmative Action Compliance in Higher Education; College Student Retention; Language Minority Students; Multiculturalism in Higher Education; Upward Bound.


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Shederick A. McClendon

Lamont A. Flowers

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