race gap higher ed

What does it mean to have access to higher education — truly?

While minority populations such as black and Hispanic students are on the rise numerically in higher education, their ability to enter and succeed in the college world is waning.

So says a new report by Young Invincibles — a national youth interest group sponsored by the Center for Community Change — which details how growing gaps in access to and affordability of higher education map onto racial divides in society.

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“Simply put, people of color will become the new majority in educational and workforce settings during our lifetime,” the report states. “At the same time, our country is plagued by deep and persistent inequities by race and ethnicity from classrooms to boardrooms.”

The study details key obstacles to educational equality alongside suggested policy solutions at the federal level. Here are three of them:

1. MINORITIES DISPROPORTIONATELY ENROLL IN FOR-PROFIT AND COMMUNITY COLLEGES

The post-secondary enrollment rates among white, black and Hispanic students are similar. According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2014 the rate of college enrollment directly out of high school was 68% for white students, 63% for black students and 62% for Hispanic students.

But look more closely at what types of institutions new high schools grads enroll in — namely, for-profit vs. not-for-profit schools and four-year vs. two-year or community colleges — because there are significant disparities along racial lines, according to analysis by Young Invincibles.

In their results, black students were shown to attend for-profit schools at double the rate — 30% — of their overall college enrollment, 14%. Additionally, Hispanic students attended two-year schools at a rate of 24% while their overall college enrollment was just 16%.

Why does this matter? Because both for-profit and two-year institutions are tied to more loan complications and poorer student experience, according to the YI report.

“The fact that African Americans students enroll in the for-profit sector matters because these institutions are more likely to have poor student outcomes combined with high levels of student debt,” the report states. “[And] community college students end up with lower incomes and default on their loans at higher rates.”

2. COLLEGE COSTS HIT MINORITIES STUDENTS HARDER

The Young Invincibles study shows that although black and Hispanic families tend to spend less ($12,660 and $11,540, respectively) than white families ($13,588) per year on college, the cost of attendance is still relatively greater for minority students. This is because when you factor in that minority families tend to have lower wages and household incomes, the relative cost for black and Hispanic students amounts to a larger chunk of their earnings.

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The racial divide in #education continues at every level & soaring college costs & #student debt, esp for lower income families fuel it. https://twitter.com/demos_org/status/785536636817772544 

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The findings of Young Invincibles’ analysis of the cost burdens of college enrollment put it in numbers:

“[W]hite households on average spend nearly $1,000 more than African American families and $2,000 more than Hispanic families, per year, on college costs,” the study reports. “However … college costs take up an average of 63% of African Americans’ family income, controlled for the type and price of institutions they choose. For Hispanic families their college costs make up 53% of family income. For white families, it’s 44%.”

3. THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP DIVIDES RACES

Compounding the issues discussed above is the fact that after enrolling and finding a way to pay for college, black and Hispanic students are succeeding and earning degrees at a lower rate across the last few decades than white students.

As shown in another analysis by Young Invincibles, the number of individuals with degrees has increased from 1974 to 2015 for all racial groups, but the gap of achievement between groups has actually widened.

The analysis shows that:

– In 1974, 14% of white students, 5.5% of black students and 5.5% of Hispanic students had completed four years of college. This indicates black and Hispanic students lagged behind whites by 8.5%.

– In 2015, 36.2% of white students, 22.5% of black students and 15.5% of Hispanic students had completed four years of college. That’s a 13.7% gap between black and white students, and a 20.7% gap between Hispanic and white students — both much higher than the earlier 8.5% figure.

“So while education attainment — the number of individuals with degrees — has increased for all groups, the gaps in terms of percentage points has increased,” the report states. “This matters because gaps in education attainment lead to socioeconomic inequalities, and the numbers are heading in the wrong direction.”

WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?

While there is no single solution to a problem with complex factors, the Young Invincibles study offers a slew of suggestions for each key problem, geared primarily at federal level policy initiatives.

Mitchell Wellman is a student at the University of Virginia and a USA TODAY College digital producer.
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