New report highlights pervasive racial inequities in the college pipeline

Dive Brief: 

  • Racial inequities continue to pervade high schools and colleges, according to new findings from the American Council on Education.

  • Black/African American and American Indian/Alaska Native students were less likely to hit college readiness benchmarks in standardized tests and tended to have lower grade point averages than their White and Asian peers. Black/African American and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander students were also more likely to enroll in for-profit schools, where attendees typically take out larger loans. 

  • The inequities particularly disadvantage Black students, the authors wrote, underscoring that race “remains a prevailing factor” in student outcomes. They risk growing during the pandemic, affecting colleges. 

Dive Insight:

Racial inequities begin in the college pipeline. Roughly one-third of all high school students in 2009 took an Advanced Placement course, compared to around one-fifth of Black students. Additionally, around two-thirds of Black high school seniors in 2015 were in the lowest achievement level for math, and nearly half placed at the same level for reading. 

High school students who are Black/African American, American Indian/Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander who took the ACT or SAT were among the least likely to hit all the college readiness benchmarks on those tests, which have long faced accusations that they are discriminatory against students based on income and race. 

The tests’ influence in college admissions may be waning, however. A majority of four-year colleges have suspended entrance exam requirements during the pandemic, and a state judge recently ordered the University of California System to stop using the SAT and ACT for admissions decisions. The system was already phasing out the tests. 

Yet the pandemic could be worsening college inequities. Undergraduate enrollment is down overall this fall, but Native American and Black students have seen the steepest declines, according to National Student Clearinghouse Research Center data. 

Black/African American and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander students were the most likely to enroll in for-profit institutions for graduate education, according to the ACE report. Students at these schools tend to take larger loans than their peers at other institutions. 

Moreover, students who are Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander were less likely than White and Asian students to complete graduate degrees in STEM fields. International students were placed in a separate category.

Robust support for graduate students of color will be key to improving program diversity, Julie Posselt, an education professor at the University of Southern California, wrote in an essay included in the report. Colleges should document and stop patterns of discrimination and train faculty to serve diverse student bodies, Posselt suggested.

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