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Minorities in higher education: A pipeline problem?

Higher Education, Minority Education

Beheruz N. Sethna
The University of West Georgia


Critics of the Higher Education system might claim that the relatively low percentages of minorities in Higher Education represent a failure of our system to provide sufficient minority graduates, sufficient numbers of minority participants in the economic progress that results from the holding of degrees, and the relative dearth of minority role models for our young minorities. However, an opposing point of view states that these low percentages and numbers are simply a reflection of the “pipeline problem.” “The Pipeline Problem” in this context is defined as the defence that there are low numbers (or percentages) of minorities coming through the system – at each stage, if the “Input” is small, then, even the best processes of creating good products, are doomed to turn out, at best, low quantities of “Output.” In effect, if we look at this as a “production process” (for the creation of Bachelor’s degrees, or any other stage of higher education), it would look like this:


If the input is very low, then the best of efficiencies in the production process will turn out low numbers of output. Though one might more reasonably call it an Input Problem, this is what is commonly referred to as the Pipeline Problem – and it will be so labeled in this paper.

So, do the low production percentages of Bachelor’s degrees in the case of most minorities represent more a reflection of a failure of the higher education system to encourage minorities to complete college, or is it a reflection of a pipeline problem (low percentage input)? It is reasonable to assume that percentage input of minorities will indeed be low, so, as we study this question, we will not attempt to apportion “blame” between these two possible causes of low minority output. Rather, we will simply study if the process is turning out output for minorities at least the same rate as it does for the majority. We accept that in many cases, it should work better than it does for the majority, to compensate for low input. However, if it does at least as well, there may a reasonable case to be made that the problem of low minority output is more a result of low input (the pipeline problem) rather than a flawed production process.


In a similar fashion to the preceding analysis, computations have been done for each minority group relative to the majority, and for each stage in the pipeline – not just the educational pipeline, but through employment and progression through academic and administrative ranks. These results are shown graphically in Figures 2-11 (as given in the paper). The details of each analysis have not been replicated in as much detail as was presented in the preceding section, but the results of progression or conversion through the pipeline are presented graphically — for each stage of the pipeline and for each minority group relative to the majority. For convenience of representation, the conversion rate for the majority is represented as the baseline, and so a positive percentage rate for a minority group implies that the progress of that minority through the pipeline is that much better than that of the majority, and a negative percentage rate for a minority group implies that the progress of that minority through the pipeline is that much worse than that of the majority.

The bright blue bars represent any case in which any minority group’s advancement through any stage of the pipeline is not only lower than that of the majority, but at least 10 per cent lower than that of all the other minority groups. They point out the most pressing need for intervention and assistance from national bodies such as AGB, AASCU, ACE, and others. Some brief comments are included on each graph. Broader conclusions follow the presentation of the graphs. The Bachelor’s to Master’s results were discussed in considerable detail in the preceding section, but the graph is included below for the sake of completeness.


Different ethnic groups need support and assistance to succeed at different stages of the academic pipeline. These imbalances can be corrected only with a substantial commitment of energy and resources from the entire higher education community – to include national organizations such as AASCU and ACE, Governing Boards and AGB, System heads, national search firms, and higher education partners. Such, then, is the recommendation – that all of these players and partners commit themselves to helping all groups – the majority and each minority population achieve success at all stages of the higher education pipeline.

Click here to read more: http://www.aabri.com/manuscripts/11913.pdf

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