​Failing College? An Analysis on the Racial Gap in Graduation Rates

It’s no secret that Black students are underrepresented in higher education. And it’s not their fault. The racial gap in graduation rates is a clear sign of institutionalized racism, but to understand the issue better, we must first explore how the different groups approach college readiness and what the consequences are for those who don’t succeed academically.

Currently, more than 60 percent of Black students graduate from high school. While this is a substantial portion, the rest do not graduate and only about 30 percent enroll in college after high school, according to research by Georgetown University scholar Anthony Carnevale and Jeff Strohl. This means that just 7 percent of all federal expenditures on higher education are directed towards the Black population, even though they account for about 13 percent of post-secondary students. Further, many Black men are incarcerated or become involved in the criminal justice system.

While there are a variety of factors to consider when investigating why so few Black people pursue higher education, one of the first problems is that Black students themselves often do not see themselves as college material.

Many Black children grow up without a positive perception of their own academic abilities and do not aspire to go to college. This feeling, combined with seeing few Black professionals within higher education, further fuels the idea that higher education isn’t for them or that they don’t fit in.

Black students are less likely than Asian or white students to be told by their parents that they are college material, especially if they attend racially diverse schools, according to a report from the American Psychological Association. This piece of research is what started our journey into the topic at hand.

These feelings of discouragement and inadequacy can persist throughout a Black student’s academic career and may lead them to believe that they just aren’t cut out for the college environment. When compared to their Asian or white counterparts, Black students spend less time on homework and reading for pleasure, according to the College Board. However, this problem is not a “racial” issue, but a socioeconomic one.

Lower-income students of every race tested below their more affluent peers in terms of skills and academic readiness for college, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). These findings are not shocking when considering that many Black high school graduates come from low-income backgrounds and attend schools where they aren’t provided the same resources as their white counterparts, such as Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

According to APA research, Black students are less likely than other groups to take these college-level classes when offered. This means that when Black students arrive at college they will be at a major disadvantage in comparison to their peers, which will make it much more difficult to graduate on time.

Black students are less likely than other groups to take Advanced Placement classes when offered, leaving them at a disadvantage when they get to college.