Israeli Arabs face 14 barriers to obtaining a college education, ranging from financial difficulties to inadequate public transportation, according to a new report by Hirak − The Center for Advancement of Higher Education in Arab Society.
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The report says that only 11 percent of Arabs are accepted to college, and that Arabs constitute only 10 percent of all those who obtain bachelor’s degrees.
In October, when the Council for Higher Education unveiled a program to improve minority access to higher education, it identified seven barriers. Hirak said it found twice as many because the CHE focused only on problems facing people who have already matriculated, while ignoring problems such as the Arab community’s difficult socioeconomic situation, which are beyond its purview.
The socioeconomic situation was the No. 1 obstacle listed by Hirak. Half of all Arab families and two thirds of Arab children live under the poverty line, and many Arab students drop out of school for economic reasons, it said.
Obstacle No. 2 is the Arab school system: Only 23 percent of its graduates meet the criteria for college acceptance, compared to 47 percent in the Jewish school system. Hirak said this is partly because the Arab system doesn’t encourage critical thinking and analytical skills.
Third is access to pre-academic preparatory programs, which only 6.4 percent of Arabs attend. Hirak said the programs have a negative image in Arab society, but are also located far from Arab towns, follow the Jewish rather than Arab curriculum, and are too expensive. The CHE offers financial aid, but mainly to army veterans, Hirak says. Few Arabs do army service.
Fourth is the psychometric exam on which most colleges base admittance. In 2011, Arabs scored on average 123 points lower than Jews (the exam is graded on a scale from 200 to 800).
Fifth, some departments have a minimum age for acceptance, which bars Arabs from starting college right after high school. Hirak says this rule is discriminatory, since it is waived for a small number of Jews: those who attend college as part of their army service, under the army’s atudai program.
Sixth, the entrance interview is generally conducted in Hebrew, which many Arabs don’t speak fluently. Arab students also face cultural barriers in these interviews.
Seventh is discrimination in competing for scholarships: Most scholarships award extra points for army service or residence in national priority areas. Few Arab towns are designated as priority areas.
Eighth is access to housing. The criteria for awarding dorm space give extra points for army service, and according to Hirak, growing racism is making it harder for Arab students who don’t get into the dorms to rent apartments at reasonable prices.
Ninth, public transportation service to Arab towns is generally poor, so students who live at home − which many do, in part because of the difficulty of finding housing on or near campus − face a costly and exhausting commute to school.
Tenth is the lack of professional and academic counseling and assistance. Some 30 percent of Arab college applicants are rejected, and 15 percent of those who are accepted drop out in their first year. Only 12 percent of Arab students graduate on time, compared to 53 percent of Jewish students.
Eleventh, Arab students are unable to freely express their views on campus, Hirak claims, and are sometimes punished for political activity.
Twelfth is language: Courses are all in Hebrew, and books in Arabic are almost nonexistent. Most colleges also don’t offer days off for Muslim and Christian religious holidays.
Thirteen, Arab applicants for master’s and doctoral programs are rejected at twice the rate of Jewish applicants (41 versus 21 percent). Altogether, Arabs account for only 8.2 percent of master’s students and 4.4 percent of doctoral students.
Finally, there’s the labor market: Arab college graduates earn on average NIS 3,500 a month less than Jewish graduates and only NIS 2,300 a month more than high-school graduates. Moreover, Hirak predicts that some 30,000 Arab graduates will be unemployed in 2015.
Hirak proposes 10 ideas for improving the situation, including tuition discounts for poor students, investing more money in the Arab education system, opening preparatory courses in Arab towns, developing academic guidance programs for Arabs, eliminating minimum age requirements, setting up an alternative admission process that doesn’t rely on the psychometric exam, giving Arabs preferential admission to dorms, and introducing more Arabic on campus.