Last week, Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard drew sharp criticism from conservative groups for saying that Western needed to attract more minority students. About 76 percent of the school’s enrollment is white.
It’s worth stepping back for context on the issue and a look at how the state’s young adult population is expected to shift in the coming decades.
The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, which does demographic research to predict what future classes of high-school graduates will look like, projects a steady decrease in the number of white students graduating from Washington high schools. Indeed, the percentage of white students reached its peak in 2010-11 with a high of about 48,000, and is expected to drop to 38,000 by 2027.
Whites make up about 68 percent of public high-school grads in Washington today, and in 2020, will make up 65 percent. Among public high-school graduating classes, whites will remain a majority in Washington through 2028 — but just by a sliver.
Why is that? The white population is declining because the echo of the baby boom is coming to a close. The U.S. population — which was largely white — soared during the baby-boom era of the 1950s-60s, and when baby boomers had children in the 1980s and ’90s, the population increased again. That generational bump is now in decline, said Brian Prescott, a researcher with WICHE.
Meanwhile, the Hispanic population has grown both because so many Hispanic immigrants have moved here, and also because Hispanic women tend to have more children than other demographic groups, he said. The Asian population is also on the increase, too, largely because of immigration.
Here’s a chart that shows how things are expected to change:
Educators are paying particular attention to the Hispanic population not only because it’s the fastest-growing, but because — at least in Washington — Hispanics are the least likely to hold a two- or four-year degree. According to a recent study, only 18 percent of the state’s Hispanics have a college degree — the lowest percentage of any demographic group in the state.
WICHE researchers say that in the coming decades, Washington will have a growing need to serve students from underrepresented backgrounds — students who will be less prepared academically and with less family money to pay for college.
In a statement released Thursday, state Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, said the state’s population is growing more diverse, and that it is “highly appropriate that we increase our outreach to students of color, disadvantaged backgrounds, and everyone else if we expect to meet goals for the amount of four-year degrees essential in our 21st-century economy.”
Pollet and a coalition of multicultural awareness groups threw their support behind Shepard Thursday. They also decried the appearance of signs on Western’s campus that read “Diversity=white genocide.”