December 8, 2023

Diving overview:

  • Just over 1 in 5 black college students, 21%, say they are discriminated against in their academic programs, according to a new joint report from the Lumina Foundation and Gallup. This is compared to 15% of all other students.
  • Black students enrolled in short-term credential programs were twice as likely to report discrimination compared to their peers pursuing associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. A third of black students in certificate programs said they are often or occasionally discriminated against, compared to 16% of those seeking associate degrees and 14% of those seeking bachelor’s degrees.
  • The type of institution the student attends is also important. A third of black students enrolled in for-profit colleges, 34%, said they experienced discrimination there, compared to 23% of black students at private nonprofits and 17% attending public institutions.

Diving statistics:

The six-year graduation rate among black students is 50.2%, the lowest of any racial or ethnic group, according to National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. And 46% of black students in four-year programs considered dropping out of coursework in the past six months, the report found. This achievement gap is rooted in the disproportionate challenges these students face in and out of the classroom.

Researchers interviewed 6,008 current students, including 1,106 black students, who are working toward certification or an associate or bachelor’s degree.

About 36% of black students had additional responsibilities as full-time employees and caregivers outside of the classroom. This is compared to 18% of other students.

And the less diverse the student body, the less safe and respected black students report feeling. At the least racially diverse institutions, 31% of black students felt discriminated against and 28% felt physically unsafe. In the most diverse programs, that number dropped to around 17% in both cases.

It’s particularly notable that students in certificate programs and those seeking associate degrees report such dramatically different rates of discrimination, according to Courtney Brown, Lumina’s vice president of impact and planning.

“It’s interesting to see because short-term credentials and certificates are usually provided by associate degree institutions,” Brown said. “For me, it’s not necessarily an institution. It’s trades that are learned. Some of them are very white, male professions that don’t have a lot of diversity in them.”

Brown specifically emphasized programs focused on trades, such as plumbing and electrical services. If black students enrolled in such programs don’t get the support they need, the workforce is less diverse and suffers as a result, Brown said.

To counter these disparities, colleges must analyze enrollment data to better identify what specific barriers their black students might face, the report said. Campus leaders should also develop best practices for combining in-person and online course options.

At the student level, colleges should offer affordable counseling services focused on planning and stress management to address the disproportionate challenges black students face in achieving an education-life balance.

Diverse mentoring opportunities are also key, Brown said.

“Black students who felt like they had a mentor or professors who cared about them didn’t feel as much discrimination,” she said. “More effort needs to be made to provide mentors so that these students feel a sense of belonging to these institutions.”

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