Black students are less likely to attain college degrees because of discrimination and external responsibilities, study finds
Black college students have lower six-year completion rates for any type of degree or certificate program than any other racial or ethnic group because of racial discrimination, the high cost of higher education and a multitude of external responsibilities, according to a new Lumina Foundation-Gallup 2023 State of Higher Education study.
The study, released on Thursday, found that Black students in less racially diverse programs are more likely to feel discriminated against, physically and psychologically unsafe, and disrespected, leading them to abandon their higher education goals.
Only 35% of Black Americans have associate degrees or higher, which are essential for economic and social mobility, and Black student enrollment has also declined over the last 10 years.
“The data is sad and distressing, but the fact that we now have the data, we can’t hide and say we don’t know anymore,” said Courtney Brown, Lumina Foundation’s vice president of strategic impact and planning.
“Now we need to act on the data,” she added.
Although some well-paying jobs do not require a college degree, they still ask for certification and training. The study found that 32% of Black respondents in short-term credential programs reported feeling discriminated against at least occasionally compared to those in associate degree programs (16%) and bachelor’s programs (14%).
The study also found that 34% of Black students at private for-profit institutions are more likely to report discrimination than those at public (17%) or private, not-for-profit institutions (23%). This is especially concerning, Brown said, because Black Americans primarily attend private for-profit institutions and are spending a lot more money and time on credentials that they might not be able to receive.
“If Black individuals aren’t able to access these programs because they’re being discriminated against, that’s not good for the individual and it’s not good for our society,” she said.
Black bachelor’s students are twice as likely (36%) as other bachelor’s students (18%) to have additional responsibilities as caregivers or full-time workers, according to the study. The study recommends that providing child care on campus, increasing financial aid and scholarships, and providing more flexibility in coursework can help these individuals finish their degrees.
The study also recommends that more people of color be placed in leadership positions at educational institutions to minimize feelings of discrimination. And institutions and policymakers need to ensure curriculums are inclusive and campus conduct policies spell out zero tolerance for discrimination.
“There needs to be somebody that’s not only going to listen, but take action on that and not dismiss it,” said Brown. “Far too many students have tried to report things and it’s been dismissed based on the color of their skin, their age or their gender.”
Although the study does not explicitly mention Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Brown acknowledged that these institutions are essential in the higher education system. She said that having people who look like them as peers, mentors, faculty, and administrative positions help Black students feel a sense of belonging, leading them to persist through their education.
“HBCUs are a gold star in this field,” said Brown. “But it’s not just up to HBCUs — it’s up to all institutions to ensure that they are inclusive, that they don’t discriminate against any individual, that they provide a welcoming environment, and that they’re working to ensure the success of every single student that they enroll.”
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