Racial Differences in Family Income of College Undergraduates

Often in the pages of JBHE we mention the fact that money to pay for college is one of the major reasons for the persisting racial educational inequality that exists in the United States. For example, one explanation for the high black student college dropout rate and why it is much greater than the rate for whites is because blacks have less money than whites to pay for college. The huge surge in tuition costs and other fees at private and state-operated colleges and universities also has put up huge barriers to educational opportunities for blacks. The increasing tendency for states and the federal government to allocate financial aid on the basis of merit rather than need makes it even more difficult for black families to pay for college.

But the reader may ask, Just how big is the income gap between white and black families with children in college? The answer is: Huge!

In 2004 nearly 57 percent of all black undergraduate students came from families that had incomes under $40,000. For whites, the figure was 24 percent. Only 9.4 percent of all African-American college students came from families that had incomes of more than $100,000. One quarter of all white undergraduates came from families with incomes of more than $100,000. Some 58 percent of white students had family income greater than $60,000. Only 26.5 percent of black undergraduates came from families with incomes above $60,000.

Remember too that these figures are only for families who actually had children who were enrolled in college. They do not include those families whose financial situation made it impossible for them to send children to college.