African Americans Are Making Progress in Degree Attainments But the Racial Equity Gap Remains

A new study from the Center for American Progress finds that for the first time in American history, half of the young adults in the United States have earned a college degree. From 2009 to 2019, the share of adults between the ages of 25 and 34 who earned an associate degree or higher rose from 41 percent to 50 percent. However, the author of the study points out that despite this milestone, there hasn’t been a great deal of progress in closing the large and persistent racial equity gap.

Since 2009, Black degree attainment has increased by more than 30 percent — the second-largest attainment growth of other racial or ethnic groups, translating to 978,000 more college-educated Black adults. If Black adults stay on that trajectory, half of them will be college-educated by 2029.

But a large equity gap remains between Black and White degree attainment. The share of Black adults with a college degree (38 percent) lags the attainment of White adults by 19 percentage points, and the Black-White attainment gap only narrowed by 0.1 percentage points from 2009 to 2019.

One note of encouraging news is that the gap between Black women and men has narrowed from 11 percentage points in 2009 to 6 percentage points in 2019. In fact, Black men have seen one of the greatest growths among all groups, with an 11.7 percentage point change.

Low retention rates are a major barrier to higher education equity. In 2019, nearly 17 percent of young adults, more than 7.5 million in total, left college without a degree. More than 22 percent of Black adults left college without a degree, compared with about 16 percent of their White peers

The full report, “Building a College-Educated America Requires Closing Racial Gaps in Attainment,” may be found here.

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