Barack Obama’s candidacy for President has, for better and for worse, increasingly prompted us as a society to honestly examine issues of race/ethnicity, discrimination, and racism. In the world of higher education where I work, one issue that continues to vex faculty and administrators is the relative lack of underrepresented minority groups as doctoral recipients and faculty.

With that in mind, Diverse Issues in Higher Education has just released data on the distribution of higher education degrees by type and racial/ethnic group. The article’s tables are a little difficult to quickly interpret, but as the authors note, the news tends to be good for Asian Americans, but not quite so good for Latinos and African Americans:

In prior year Top 100 analyses, we have noted how the representation of African-Americans and Hispanics tends to decline with increasing degree levels. The first two charts of this analysis show that this is still the case with one notable exception.

African-Americans compose roughly 12 percent of the U.S. population and are represented among associate degree recipients at this same level. The level of African-American representation declines to just over 9 percent for bachelor’s degree recipients but increases to over 10 percent among master’s degree recipients. The downward trend is then notable in the first professional (7 percent) and doctoral degrees (6.1 percent).

Hispanics show the consistent downward trend we’ve noted in past years, ranging from just under 12 percent among associate degree recipients to just over 3 percent for doctoral degree recipients. . . .

Asian Americans have a much different pattern of representation. They are found in lowest proportion among associate degree recipients (5 percent), in slightly higher proportion among master’s and doctoral degree recipients (6 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively), higher still among bachelor’s degree recipients (7 percent), and then significantly higher among first professional degree recipients (13 percent).

There’s much more data to digest in the full report, but the gist of the results show that we need to pay close attention to the unique and specific needs and issues of each racial/ethnic group if we are to make the institution of higher education more equitable and just for Americans of all backgrounds.

Specifically, African Americans and Latinos are still disproportionately underrepresented as bachelor’s, master’s, professional, and doctorate degree recipients. And while Asian Americans are overrepresented in these categories, the data also shows that most of these recipients are international Asian students, as opposed to U.S.-born or raised Asian Americans.

As we move forward into the 21st century and as American society becomes increasingly globalized and integrated into the international community, one of our most important social institutions — higher education — needs to do a better job at reflecting these face of our nation and world.