For that to change, the report authors said, policymakers need to work harder to make the experience at non-selective schools more like that at selective ones. That means more spending for those schools, which often struggle with crowded classes and outdated equipment. It also would mean added financial support for students at non-selective schools, who spend more hours working and dealing with family responsibilities than students at selective colleges.
"It is a good-news, bad-news story," said Anthony P. Carnevale, the report's other co-author and director of Georgetown's workforce center. "Access is up and inequality is growing a lot with it. And the two are intimately connected."
Between 1995 and 2009, new freshman college enrollment has more than doubled for Hispanics, while increasing 73 percent for African Americans and 15 percent for whites, who represent a shrinking share of the college-age population.
Those students are largely facing different college experiences. More than eight out of 10 of those new white students attended selective four-year schools, compared with 13 percent for Hispanics and 9 percent for African Americans, the report said.
At the same time, more than two in three African Americans and nearly three in four Hispanics went to so-called open-access colleges, the report said.
Overall, whites represent 75 percent of the students at the nation's top 468 colleges, even though they account for only 62 percent of the nation's college-age population. Meanwhile, whites make up just 57 percent of the students at open-access schools.
Conversely, blacks and Hispanic students account for 36 percent of students at open-access schools, and only 14 percent at the nation's selective four-year colleges. Overall, blacks and Hispanics make up one-third of the nation's college-age population.
The report's authors said colleges and policymakers should do more to lure high-achieving black and Hispanic students to top schools, where their chances of graduation and future success would be much greater. The report noted that students with low college admission test scores graduate from top schools at a higher rate than those with high scores graduate from open-access schools.