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For Colleges In Connecticut, An Increase In Hispanic And Black Students Earning Degrees


December 17, 2009

The numbers of Hispanic and black men and women graduating with degrees awarded by Connecticut colleges and universities were up significantly in the last academic year, according to the state's department of higher education.

The percentage of Hispanic students awarded degrees including certificates, associate's, bachelor's and graduate-level went up 12.5 percent in the 2008-09 academic year, compared to the previous academic year; for black students the increase was 7.3 percent, while for white students it was a 1.2 percent increase.

Overall, the number of degrees awarded to all students was 38,047, up nearly 4 percent from the previous year the second-highest annual gain in 20 years. There was a 6.6 percent surge in 2003 according to numbers released Wednesday.

Michael P. Meotti, commissioner of higher education, said it is the upswing in the numbers of degrees for Hispanic and black students that is most notable. "We think this is very big news for Connecticut," Meotti said during a Wednesday meeting of the board of governors for higher education.

Meotti said the numbers are "really exciting as indicators," but it will take some time to really understand what they mean.

Another positive development reported was the narrowing of the gender gap between men and women earning degrees. Three years ago, women earned 60.3 percent of all college and university degrees in Connecticut; during the last academic year that number was 58.7 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of men has correspondingly increased from 39.7 percent three years ago to 41.3 percent last year."Since there is parity in the population, you would like there to be parity in the attainment of degrees," Nancy L. Brady, director of finance for the department of higher education. "It's been a national concern that we're losing [men] in high school or right after high school. It's a good sign that Connecticut has been closing the gap."

After the meeting, Meotti said that for decades the main discussion around higher education for minority students has been about ensuring access to programs.

"We have made great gains in equalizing access to education along racial and ethnic breakouts of the population," said Meotti, "so if you look at the enrollment in higher education, it roughly parallels the adult population."

The national discussion has now turned from access to success or graduation, he said. "While we look good on access, we don't in terms of success. The African American and Hispanic students do not have success at the same rate as other students."

Research has shown, he said, that having just a few post-secondary courses does not have nearly the impact on future employment and salary levels as does a diploma.

A significant portion of the increase in the number of degrees awarded to all students was accounted for by the increase in associate's degrees: up 10 percent with 5,596 degrees awarded in the spring of 2009. By comparison, bachelor's degrees were up 1.5 percent, master's degrees were up 6.5 percent and doctoral degrees were fairly flat with growth of less than 1 percent.

The largest increases in associate's degrees occurred at Capital, Gateway, Housatonic, Manchester, Norwalk and Tunxis community colleges.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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