A report by corporate executives and university presidents predicts a social and economic crisis in the United States if more is not done to improve education for minorities and increase the number of minorities that receive a university education.
The report points out that a huge proportion of the nation's future workforce will be minorities.
Twenty-eight per cent of white Americans hold undergraduate degrees compared with 17 per cent of blacks and 11 per cent of Hispanics.
"Diversity is an invaluable competitive asset that America cannot afford to ignore," said Stephen Butler, chairman and chief executive officer of the international consulting company KPMG and co-chairman of the Business-Higher Education Forum, which produced the study.
The report urges an increase in the maximum annual amount of government tuition subsidies available per student from the current $3,750 (£2,650) to $5,800 - a 55 per cent rise, and an unlikely prospect given competing claims on a shrinking national budget.
It recommends that university admissions policies be changed to consider characteristics beyond grades and test scores.
William Kirwan, president of Ohio State University and Mr Butler's co-chairman, said: "America's educational system is the pipeline from which the diverse pool of capable citizens and workers for the 21st century will flow."
Others cited the country's economic viability and national security as reasons for addressing racial disparity in education.
National Alliance of Business president Roberts T. Jones said: "As we fight to eradicate terrorism and maintain safety on our shores, we must protect our economic stability by investing in our most valuable resource, our diverse citizenry."
• Historically black universities and colleges are to get an extra 3.6 per cent in federal funds in President George W. Bush's budget next month. Education secretary Roderick R. Paige announced the increase at a ceremony to mark the birthday of Martin Luther King. The additional $7.4 million is subject to Congress passing the budget.