The Racial Gap in Graduation Rates at the U.S. Service Academies

For much of U.S. history, African American students were not welcome at the U.S. service academies. Now, Blacks make up about 6 percent of all enrollments at the three major U.S. service academies.

Nationwide, the Black student college graduation rate is about 20 percentage points lower than the rate for White students. But at the U.S. service academies the racial gap is much lower.

At the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, the graduation rate for Black students is 78 percent. This is five percentage points below the rate for White students. This is the narrowest racial gap in graduation rates among the three major service academies.

At the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, the Black graduation rate of 74 percent is six percentage points below the rate for White students. At the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, the Black graduation rate is 76 percent. This is 9 percentage points below the rate for Whites.

Of course, Black students at the service academies do not have to be concerned with tuition and room and board costs because the federal government pays all costs. Since prior research has shown that money is the most significant reason why Black students drop out of college, the fact that money is not a factor at the service academies undoubtedly contributes to a lowering of the racial gap in graduation rates.

It must be noted, too, that there are gender differences in graduation rates for Whites and Blacks at the service academies. For example, Black women graduate at a slightly higher rate than White women at the U.S. Air Force Academy. At West Point, Black women have a graduation rate of 77 percent, just three percentage points below the rate for White women.

But the major racial gap for women occurs at the U.S. Naval Academy. There the graduation rate for Black women is just 69 percent. This is 20 percentage points below the rate for White women. Since there are only about 15 African American women in each class at the Naval Academy, the graduation rate statistics may be skewed simply  because of the small numbers. However, this graduation rate gap should be closely monitored.

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