The Very Wide Racial Gap in College Graduation Rates

New data from the U.S. Department of Education reveals a persisting racial gap in college graduation rates. The data examines students who entered four-year colleges in 2015 seeking a bachelor’s degree to see if they had earned a bachelor’s degree by 2021, six years after entering higher education.

The figures show that 64.5 percent of all students entering four-year colleges in 2015 had graduated within six years. But there is a huge gap between Black and White students. Nearly 68 percent of all White students graduated within six years. But only 45.7 percent of Black students had earned a bachelor’s degree within six years. There was a gap of 22.2 percentage points in degree attainment between Blacks and Whites. Hispanic/Latino students had a graduation rate that was 13.4 percentage points higher than the rate for Blacks.

Blacks did slightly better at private, not-for-profit colleges and universities. At these institutions, 47.4 of Blacks earned a bachelor’s degree within six years. But the racial gap was even larger at 24.3 percentage points.

Among African Americans, women had a six-year graduation rate of 50.4 percent. This was 11.1 percentage points higher than the rate for Black men.

The data also includes information on students who entered two-year community colleges in 2018 and earned an associate’s degree by 2021, three years after first enrolling in community college. Only 29 percent of Black students entering community college in 2018 had earned an associate’s degree by 2021. For Whites, the graduation rate was 39.5 percent.

Undoubtedly, the pandemic had a significant impact on the large racial gap in graduation rates. Due to economic conditions and technology access issues, many Black students probably had to put their education on hold during this period.


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