Crime and College: A Second Look at the Numbers

Algernon Austin presents an excellent, concise, and wonderfully read scholarly examination of the complicated landscape of race, class and popular perception. Besides the prison industrial complex, black strides in education, poverty rates, crime and other indices contradict claims that blacks are “moving backward.”
--Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, Director, Institute for African American Studies, University of Connecticut and author of Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity (The Johns Hopkins University Press), 2004 and Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap (University Press of Kansas), 2007.

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Is the Black Teen Murder Rate Increasing?

I agree with James Alan Fox that we should be spending more on preventing crime in black communities and that we need to find ways to keep illegal guns off the streets. But Steven Levitt makes a convincing argument that Fox is exaggerating the increase in the number of homicides by black teens. Fox is mainly capturing the fact that their are more black teens today than seven years ago. There has been only a very slight increase in the homicide rate for black teens. Will the homicide rate increase as the economy worsens? Sadly, I think that it will. Let's hope that I'm wrong.

Has the Growth in Higher Education Stalled for Hispanics and Blacks?

The American Council on Education claims that this is the case but I'm not convinced. See the piece below. I do think that we need to work to increase the rates of Hispanics and blacks obtaining college degrees, regardless.

35 Years Old and Still in School

For many Americans, their formal schooling years do not end in their twenties. The failure to recognize this fact was the source of an error made in a new report by the American Council on Education (ACE). In a press release and newsletter, ACE incorrectly claims that younger adults are obtaining less post-secondary education than their parents. The report compares 25 to 29 year olds to adults 30 and older and finds that for some racial groups, the older adults have a higher percentage of college degrees. The supposed decline was observed for Hispanic Americans and American Indians. African Americans showed no difference between older and younger adults. For whites and Asian Americans, the younger group had a higher share of college degrees.

The full report Minorities in Higher Education 2008 contradicts the claim of declining educational attainment. ACE finds that college enrollment among African Americans rose by 46 percent between 1995 and 2005. For Hispanics it was even higher, up 66 percent. These increases suggest that black and Latino young adults today should have more college education than in the past, not less. This is in fact the case.

The best way to assess the trend in post-secondary education is to compare 25 to 29 years olds year-to-year. By comparing different age groups, ACE creates an apples-to-oranges comparison. If there was a decline in minority youth seeking higher education, an analysis of individuals in the same age group would reveal it.

The tables below show that for Hispanics and blacks there has been an increase in the percent of 25-to-29 year olds with an associate's degree or higher from 2000 to 2007. We see no signs of a stalling when we restrict the analysis to individuals of the same age. It is also worth noting that for 2000 and 2007, the highest rate of college degree attainment is not 25-to-29 year olds. This is the first problem with comparing 25-to-29 year olds to older adults.

The second problem is that the growth in college degrees by age category from 2000 to 2007 is not largest for the 25-to-29 year olds. For Hispanics, the biggest growth in college degrees is among the 50+--4 percentage points. For blacks, it is among the 35-to-39 year olds--7 percentage points. Simply, what we are seeing is not a decline in degrees earned by 25-to-29 year olds, but large increases for minority adults 30 years old and above.

Since the 1980s, about one-in-four students enrolled in America’s colleges and universities have been 30 years old or over. It would be nice to think that all of these older students were in school simply for the love of learning, but it is more likely that they were trying to find a way to increase their earnings.

In the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, Americans without a college degree could find a job that paid a good wage. Additionally, over these decades, the wages of these jobs increased significantly. Once one had a good job, there was no need to obtain more education as a means to higher earnings.

Since the 1970s, good jobs for those without a college degree have been harder and harder to find. The danger of being stuck in low-wage occupations is acute for Hispanics, blacks and American Indians. As a result, many Americans return to school as a step in trying to improve their financial situation. Many people need to find a new job requiring a higher educational credential to experience any significant increase in income. Low wage growth is ultimately the likely reason why Americans in their 30s are better educated than Americans in their 20s.

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--Algernon Austin, Ph.D.

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