Barry Mills, the president of Bowdoin College, was justifiably proud of Bowdoin’s efforts to recruit minority students. Since 2003 the small, elite liberal-arts school in Brunswick, Maine, has boosted the proportion of so-called underrepresented minority students (blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans, about 30 percent of the U.S. population) in entering freshman classes from 8 percent to 13 percent. “It is our responsibility, given our place in the world, to reach out and attract students to come to our kinds of places,” he told a NEWSWEEK reporter. But Bowdoin has not done quite as well when it comes to actually graduating minorities. While nine out of 10 white students routinely get their diplomas within six years, only seven out of 10 black students made it to graduation day in several recent classes.
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The picture of diversity—black, white, and brown students cavorting or studying together out on the quad—is a stock shot in college catalogs. The picture on graduation day is a good deal more monochromatic. “If you look at who enters college, it now looks like America,” says Hilary Pennington, director of postsecondary programs for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has closely studied enrollment patterns in higher education. “But if you look at who walks across the stage for a diploma, it’s still largely the white, upper-income population.”
The United States once had the highest graduation rate of any nation. Now it stands 10th. For the first time in American history, there is the risk that the rising generation will be less well educated than the previous one. The graduation rate among 25- to 34-year-olds is no better than the rate for the 55- to 64-year-olds who were going to college more than 30 years ago. Studies show that more and more poor and nonwhite students aspire to graduate from -college—but their graduation rates fall far short of their dreams. The graduation rates for blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans lag far be-hind the graduation rates for whites and Asians. As the minority population grows in the United States, low college–graduation rates become a threat to national -prosperity.