Posted on February 14, 2019

Nearly Half of Undergraduates Are Students of Color. But Black Students Lag Behind.

Sarah Brown, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 14, 2019

The key data points in the American Council on Education’s new report on race and ethnicity in higher education come as no surprise: College-student populations are growing more diverse, yet achievement gaps persist among different racial groups.

Still, the poor outcomes for black students in particular are glaring.

All students of color now make up more than 45 percent of the undergraduate population, compared with less than 30 percent two decades ago, the association’s report found. Nearly one-third of graduate students are now people of color. Hispanic students have shown the most growth; they are enrolling in and completing college at levels never seen before.

Black students, too, represent a larger share of the undergraduate- and graduate-student population than 20 years ago, and a larger share of the students who earn degrees. But black students who began college in the fall of 2011 had higher dropout rates and lower six-year completion rates — 46 percent at public institutions, 57 percent at private institutions — than any other racial group.


Black undergraduates also owed 15 percent more than other students after graduation: an average of $34,010, compared with $29,669 for all students. One-third of black students accumulated more than $40,000 in debt after graduation, versus 18 percent of students over all.

Even with a bachelor’s degree, black graduates between the ages of 25 and 34 had lower salaries than other graduates of a similar age, and their unemployment rate was two-thirds higher, on average.


The reasons for these disparities are widely known in higher education: Black students tend to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, have families with little or no college experience, and graduate from underperforming high schools that didn’t prepare them well for higher education.

The racial composition of faculty and staff members, meanwhile, has not caught up with their increasingly diverse students, according to the association’s report. Just over one-fifth of all full-time professors are people of color. Among college presidents, about 17 percent are nonwhite. The most diverse group of campus administrators were in student-affairs offices; one-fourth of them identified as minorities.