University opportunity in the US is at a standstill, with virtually no increase in the number of students enrolling in, or completing, college, according to an independent report that says the situation is likely to get worse.
The report, by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, says that less than half of high-school students in most parts of the country go to college immediately after high school. In some areas, less than a third of all university-age adults attend a university. And in only a few places do significant majorities of full-time students graduate from four-year institutions within six years.
"There are young Americans who still do not have the opportunity to prepare for and enrol in college," said James Hunt, former governor of North Carolina and chairman of the organisation's board of directors.
The principal culprit, the report says, is cost. In some states, low-income families would have to pay more than three-quarters of their earnings to send a child to a low-cost public community college.
The problem is projected to continue as revenue shortfalls force states to increase tuition at public universities while cutting financial aid for students. The report says it will soon result in a shortage of skilled workers.
The American Council on Education, an organisation of universities and colleges, reported separately that the number of minority students attending and completing college continues to crawl upward.
The number of non-whites enrolled at university rose by 3.3 per cent between 1998 and 1999, the last period for which the figures are available. The number of bachelors degrees awarded to minorities rose by 5.8 per cent, the number of masters degrees by 8.1 per cent and the number of doctoral degrees by 2.5 per cent.
About a quarter of all students at US universities are non-white.