A study recently released by Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis has found that Black and Hispanic students remain significantly underrepresented in the nation’s most selective colleges. The study, which can be found here, concludes that as recently as 2004, white students were five times as likely as Black students to enroll in selective colleges. White students with family income in the upper half of income distribution were three to four times as likely to attend a highly selective college as Black students with the same family income.

More significantly, the study shows that the racial enrollment gap at these colleges increased from 1982-2004, the time span of their study. So there were even fewer Black and Hispanic students on these campuses in 2004 than there were more than 20 years earlier. In 1982, white students were only two and a half times more likely than Black students to enroll in selective colleges, as compared to their being five times more likely in 2004. The researchers note that although they do not have more recent comparable data, there is little reason to think that these patterns have improved dramatically over the past eight years. This confirms what many of us (particularly parents of soon-to-be college bound children) have sensed for a while: it is tougher for our children to enroll in these schools now than it was when we were heading to college.

The researchers note that this growing racial enrollment gap with respect to the most selective institutions can’t be attributed to a widening racial achievement gap, because this gap has narrowed, albeit slowly, over the past few decades. They suggest that this gap is driven by a number of other factors, including increased competition for spots at the most selective colleges and changes in the college application/admission/enrollment processes, including changes in who applies to these colleges, how colleges determine whom to admit, and where students decide to enroll (which can depend on tuition costs, financial aid, and the students’ perceptions of the best fit for them).

The Stanford study, which was reported in a Huffington Post article found here, also finds that low and middle-income students (regardless of race) are extremely underrepresented in the most selective colleges, and examined whether policies like the “Texas Top Ten Percent Rule” (which guarantees admission to their state universities to students who rank above a certain percentile in their high school class) are sufficient to create meaningfully diverse student bodies at selective state universities (they are not).

What can we parents of potential members of this shrinking class take from this report? The full answer to this requires more study and focus than a brief post can accommodate, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. But here are some quick responses: We can stay focused on our children’s education from day one, as a strong academic record is key to college admission and enrollment success. We can continue to talk with our sons and daughters about our expectations for their higher education. Not in anger (“How are you going to get to college with these grades?”) but positively and productively (“You are good in XX, I’ll bet you will enjoy learning a lot more about this in college”, or “When you get to college you can pick your courses, so you won’t have to take any more classes in XX if you don’t want to!”) We can begin now to make financial preparations for our children’s college education so that they are able to pick the school that best fits them academically rather than economically. Not to get all Tiger Mom on you all, but the road to college is no longer one which we can send our children off alone–we’ve got to keep their company!