The Racial Gap in College Graduation Rates

A new report from the U.S. Department of Education offers data on the racial gap in college graduation rates at different types of educational institutions.

If we look at all four-year educational institutions, we find that 39.5 percent of African Americans who entered these institutions in 2009 seeking a bachelor’s degree earned their degree within six years. For Whites seeking bachelor’s degrees, the graduation rate was 59.4 percent. At private, not-for-profit colleges and universities, the racial gap was even more pronounced. At these four-year institutions, the Black graduate rate was 43.5 percent, more than 26 percentage points below the rate for White students.

For African Americans, there was a significant gender gap in college graduation rates favoring women. The graduation rate for Black women was nearly nine percentage points higher than for Black men.

When we look at data for two-year colleges, we find a much smaller racial gap. The data shows that 24.7 percent of African Americans who enrolled in associate’s degree programs in 2012 earned their degree within three years. For Whites seeking associate’s degrees, the graduation rate was 33.2 percent.

Here, too, there was a significant gender gap among African American students. Some 27.2 percent of Black women who enrolled at a two-year college in 2012 earned their associate’s degree by 2015. For Black men, the graduation rate at two-year colleges was 21.4 percent.

Undoubtedly, economic factors, including lower family income and wealth among African Americans and insufficient financial aid, were major contributors to the large racial gap in college graduation rates.

The full report, Graduation Rates for Selected Cohorts, 2007–12; Outcome Measures for Cohort Year 2007; Student Financial Aid, Academic Year 2014–15; and Admissions in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2015, may be downloaded by clicking here.


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  1. Wayne Campbell says:

    It will be more helpful to discuss solutions and real examples of those solutions in action than continuously focusing on the problem.

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