The Nationwide Racial Gap in College Graduation Rates

Data compiled by the National Collegiate Athletic Association shows graduation rates of for all students who entered college in 2010 and earned their degrees within six years at the association’s Division I institutions. These colleges and universities are among the largest in the nation. For all students who enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs at these four-year institutions in 2010, 66 percent earned their degrees by 2016.

But there were wide discrepancies when we compare the graduation rates of African Americans with those of other racial and ethnic groups. In fact, Blacks had the lowest graduation rate of any racial or ethnic group. Only 46 percent of all Black students who entered bachelor’s degree programs at four-year institutions in 2010 earned their degree within six years.

The Black student college graduation rate of 46 percent was 23 percentage points lower than the rate for Whites and 31 percentage points below the rate for Asian Americans. The Black student graduation rate trailed the rates for Hispanics by 14 percentage points.

For Black and African American students there was a 9 percentage point gap in graduation rates in favor of women. Some 49 percent of Black women who entered college in the fall of 2010 earned their degrees within six years compared to 40 percent of Black men.

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  1. This is another chronic problem that illustrates the need for a holistic approach in a variety of areas to address the graduation disparities. Current and past research has demonstrated the factors that need to be addressed in order to improve degree completion rates for African Americans and in particular African American males. Students who feel disconnected from the institutions that they attend will flounder without specific and targeted interventions. Classroom experiences have not been fully addressed because institutions, especially those with primarily a research agenda for their faculty, have not emphasized effective teaching or pedagogy in order to reach different student populations. Last but not least, one wonders whether college and university administrators who have the power to help change the culture, really understand the differences in classroom experiences that students of color have and how that impacts their ability to learn and succeed. Research and a paradigm shift are important, otherwise the completion data reported today will be repeated for many more years to come.

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