The Large Racial Poverty Gap and Its Impact on Higher Education

Money remains a major barrier in the quest for educational equality in America. With annual costs of more than $60,000 for some private colleges and universities and fees of more than $25,000 at some state-operated higher educational institutions, “sticker shock” tends to push people away from attaining higher education. It is true that there are vast financial aid resources available but often full financial need cannot be met and prospective students are faced with the prospect of going into substantial debt in order to obtain a college degree.

The lack of money for higher education is of particular concern to the African American community. Previous research has shown that there are large numbers of young Black Americans from low-income families who don’t even bother to consider pursuing higher education because of the cost.

Poverty impacts a large segment of the African American population. The U.S. Census Bureau has released its annual report on poverty in the United States. The report shows that in 2016, 9,234,000 African Americans were living below the official poverty line in the United States. This was 22 percent of the entire Black population. In contrast, only 8.8 percent of the non-Hispanic White population was living in poverty. The Black-White poverty rate gap where African Americans are about three times as likely to be poor as Whites, has remained virtually unchanged for the past 45 years.


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  1. I believe this data points out the need for more college funding for first generation minority students. The issue of access is significantly linked to affordability. College degree attainment (both two year and four year) is an important factor in helping any and all people to break the cycle of poverty.

    • The data out there also suggests that black students disproportionately come from under-performing K-12 schools that don’t prepare them adequately for college-level work. Thus, they disproportionately must take remedial classes that they can ill-afford before taking classes that count towards their degrees. So, what happens to the majority of blacks who attend college is that they leave school without graduating and in debt. College keeps most blacks in poverty, not the other way around, simply because most don’t actually attain a degree. They attain a lot of debt and a job that they could of gotten with a high school diploma. They’re buddies who didn’t bother to go to college, but went to work full-time after high school are ahead of them if they stick to those jobs and work themselves up to manager.

  2. It’s sad to read that a lot of low-income black young people don’t even consider attending college due to the costs. But then, at least they won’t become burdened with a lot of debt and the expectation of a better life that blacks usually don’t achieve on par with white college graduates. The importance of college is over done with blacks, because most don’t graduate any way. So, black students won’t accrue a lot of debt and end up without a degree. Sounds like good news in a way, considering only about 42% of blacks complete undergraduate degrees within 6 years any way.

  3. Dave B. And Jerald,

    Young blacks are not going into stem careers. Instead, they choose to go into the social sciences or a bogus liberal arts pathway. I wager that there are a lot of scholarships available for underrepresented minority students pursuing stem degrees. Billionaire Robert Smith gave 50 million dollars to Cornell to fund scholarships for minority students majoring in a STEM degree for God’s sake. How can we prepare the next generation for these career paths? With all these urban charter sprouting up in major cities, why not create one specializing in the stem, starting in primary school.

    There are going to be higher demands in the STEM and healthcare professions in the future. Even in education, there is a shortage of math teachers, so a STEM degree plays a role in that too.

    If we can’t prep future blacks for these professions, they might as well learn a trade and avoid high student debt.

    • I agree with you Joseph R. about the need for more black students to learn an “in demand” trade as opposed to attending college to major in liberal arts. Most black students are simply not “college material” after graduating from high school.

  4. I agree with both David B. and Joseph R. They have made some great points. I am a science educator, and from a family where all my three other brothers have science degrees and science based occupations. I worked in a college physics, chemistry and biology laboratories for a number of years. I say all this to assess the qualities and intellectual skills required to achieve a degree in STEM subjects. It is TOUGH, especially if the students are inadequately taught, and do not have the academic mentoring and coaching at home and among their peer group.

    Poverty is a cause of many black students not attending college; and going to college is a cause of black students being poor. The argument is congruent and not mutually exclusive. Both statements are correct.

    Many black students with high school diplomas who are prepared to work hard, and be wise money managers will be prosperous and free from debt, and escape from poverty if they did not attend college. I know of a black male and female in their mid-twenties, with only high school diplomas who are doing very well financially. Both work three jobs. The young man now owns a house, truck and is debt-free. The young lady is nearly in a similar position. I asked her if she had any children, and she said that she is not yet ready to have one.

    On the other hand, I know from experience that having only a high school diploma is not enough to prepare 18 year olds to participate and prosper in the 4th Digital Industrial Revolution – new Global economy based on STEM, big data, A1, robotics and algorithms require college degrees of a particular kind.

    One of the main subjects which is absolutely necessary for African-American students to do is COMPUTER SCIENCE at AP level. The College Board in 2013 reported that 30,000 students took the AP exam for computer science, and only 3 percent were African American. In ten States NO African-American student sat for the AP exam in Computer Science.

    In Mississippi, where 37 percent of the total population is African American, no African-American took an AP test in Computer Science. In California, where Silicon Valley is located only 74 African-American students took AP test in Computer Science, but their pass rate was 57% and above the average for the state. Maryland had the highest number of African-American students (170) in any State, taking AP test in Computer Science.

    There is work for us to do. It is not easy. I did some research of the Math and Science scores of students at Elementary and Middle schools in a School District in South Carolina. I noticed that at the GIFTED AND TALENTED school, in a city with 30% African-American, there were only 6 out of over 400 students at the school in 2007. I applied considerable pressure on the school board, superintendent, principals, and all state senators and house members to increase African-American representation at the school. It paid off in one way, in that there are now over 220 African-American at the GIFTED AND TALENTED school.

    What the school has done is to segregate the African-American students from the white students, and teach them an inferior curriculum, so much so, that the achievement gap between the white and black GIFTED students in Math and Science is one of the widest in the School district.

    In 2000, I taught a GIFTED AND TALENTED group of 13 students at a high school in London. I also linked up with a GITED AND TALENTED ACADEMY in New York. A group of teachers and GIFTED students from New York came to London and spent a day with my GIFTED and TALENTED group. Fast forward to 17 years on. From my group of 13 students – 3 of them became medical doctors, two PHDs. The New York group are also medical doctors, lawyers, and in high paying occupations.

    African-American students can learn to achieve at the highest level; but they are being short-changed at ALL levels in the education system and by both white and black educators. We can do and must do better by our African-American students because they are our future.

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