If there's one issue in this country that seems to enjoy bi-partisan support, it's the idea that young people should have access to opportunities for a better life, such as going to college. But a new report by the American Council on Education finds that, despite impressive gains over the last decade, color and class barriers still stand in the way of those seeking higher education.

The Minorities in Higher Education Twenty-second Annual Status Report finds that enrollment of African-American, Latino, Asian-American, and American Indian students has risen dramatically, with students of color now making up 27.8% of students on college campuses, compared to 21.8% in 1993. But white enrollment has risen, too, and a significant color gap remains:

Although students of color made significant gains in college enrollment, African American and Hispanic students still lag behind their white peers in the rate at which they enroll in college. In 2002-04, 47.3 percent of white high school graduates age 18 to 24 attended college compared with 41.1 percent of African Americans and 35.2 percent of Hispanics. [...]

"As I look at this report I am pleased to see people of color making gains in college enrollment and degree attainment over the 10 years covered in the report, but I am more struck by the gaps that still persist and believe they only hold our nation back politically and economically," said ACE President David Ward.

The study hints at a range of factors that influence who goes to college. Undoubtedly one of the major culprits is the skyrocketing cost of higher education. According to the Lumina Foundation, the cost of tuition and fees have increased almost 50% over the last decade. Among other findings of the Foundation:

*** Over 400,000 students who were eligible for college in 2002 didn't go because they couldn't afford it.

*** As college assistance has shifted from grants to loans, the average debt load of a four-year public college graduate was approximately $17,000 in 2000 - more than double the level in 1991.

*** Government support for students to go to college has been rapidly declining. In 1986, an average Pell Grant covered 98% of tuition costs at a public 4-year school. Today, it only covers 23% of tuition and fees.