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Many of the country’s flagship public universities – taxpayer-funded and designed to serve a state’s students and, by extension, its future welfare – are failing to provide this service equitably. Compare the number of African-American high school graduates in a state to the number of African-American students who enroll at its flagship campus the following fall, and in many states a gap stands out.
South Carolina had the second-largest gap in the country between black high school graduates and black freshman enrolling at the flagship in 2015, the latest year for which The Hechinger Report examined the data. At the University of South Carolina, African-American students made up six percent of the freshman class, although they constituted 37 percent of the state’s high school graduates, a 31-point gap. (Mississippi had the worst gap – 40 percentage points.)
The university also had the lowest percentage of African-Americans in its 2015 freshman class among the 34 colleges and universities in the South Carolina state system. U.S.C.’s president, Harris Pastides, said that academically qualified African-American students had many opportunities to go to colleges outside the state, or to other in-state colleges.
“It’s something we want to do more and better with, but I’m actually quite proud of the job we’re doing now,” he said.
Flagship universities are usually the jewels in the crown of a public higher education system. They have top faculty talent, preeminent research facilities, the most resources and often the highest graduation rates, for all races. Their graduates often go on to become leaders in business and politics in the state. Also, they are usually more affordable to state residents, and their endowments allow them to offer more generous scholarships and provide more robust academic and social support to students.
The data for all 50 states, showing the disparities between African-American and Latino high school graduates and African-American and Latino freshman enrollment at flagship universities, can be seen here.
This story and video report about diversity in flagship universities was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.