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Study: Black and Hispanic Students Get Lower Return on Higher Ed Investment

Black and Hispanic graduates would have received 1 million more bachelor’s degrees between 2013 and 2015 if the share of their credentials were at parity with their White peers, according to a recent analysis by Center for American Progress.

Black and Hispanic students largely completed associate degrees and certificates, which provide a smaller return on a student’s investment, according to the analysis, which was released this week. It indicates that White students are at a significant advantage compared to their Black and Hispanic peers, graduating with higher degrees from colleges that spend more on their education.

“These gaps also show up in the fields in which students receive their bachelor’s degree,” said senior policy research analyst CJ Libassi. “For instance, if Black and Hispanic bachelor’s degree recipients were as likely to major in engineering as White students, this country would have produced 20,000 more engineers from 2013 through 2015. What’s more, the United States would have 30,000 more teachers of color if students of color were represented equally among education graduates.”

When gender is added to the analysis, the disparities are even wider.

“For example, in fields of study, we know women of color are not represented well in some areas, including STEM (science, technology, engineering and math),” said Libassi. “Among college completers, White men are 11 times more likely to have a bachelor’s degree in engineering than Black women and about six times more likely than Hispanic women.”

Another example from the analysis shows that White women are far more likely to get education degrees than any other group. If Black and Hispanic women got degrees in education at the rate of White women from 2013 through 2015, there would have been 15,000 more trained female educators of those races graduating over that period. If Black and Hispanic men received education degrees at the rate of their White female peers, there would be nearly 13,000 more Black men and 19,000 Hispanic men with teaching degrees.

Taken together, these disparities signal substantial educational inequities in higher education, even among students who finish their program of study.

“With the number of people who drop out of college in general, we are rightly focused on them. That’s a big problem. We are also focused on those who never go in the first place,” Libassi said.

“There are huge racial disparities along those two dimensions. But our idea was: Let’s look at those who are successes and graduate. Their experience is different in a few ways.

“The first way is determining what sector they get their degree from. When students are more likely to have gotten their degree from a public four-year sector and less likely from a for-profit school. Interestingly, they are about as equally as likely to have gotten [a degree] from a community college.

Black degree-holders are more likely to have gotten their degree from a for-profit institution than from a public four-year institution, which is “concerning for a few reasons,” Libassi continued. “Evidence on the returns to college is pretty well developed at this point and evidence on the returns from for-profit education has been established to be close to zero, if not negatives.

“So, the effects of going to one of those schools, on average, is negative for your earnings. You would be better off never having gone to those places.”

Other factors measured were how much schools spend on their students’ education, how sought-after the schools are, faculty-student ratio, faculty salaries and how much investment was out back into the students.

“When you rank schools based on that index, we find that Black and Hispanic students go to schools that rank lower on that index,” Libassi said.

He cited a study on the spending component by former colleague Sarah Garcia hat can be found on the Center for American Progress website.

The CAP analysis includes four steps that could help eliminate the disparities: include racial equity measures in federal accountability structures; create a federal student-level data system to track outcomes by race; use state-level data to monitor equity gaps in completion and learn from schools that are serving their students well.

Finding a path to equity in the types of credentials students get is not only a moral imperative, is also crucial to the nation’s future success, Libassi said.

“The whole reason we took on this project was to access the problems. No one really talks about, among those who complete college, what happens and what happens to people after school.”

Libassi and his colleagues say the problems are deeply entrenched and the surface has barely been scratched in discussing them.

“It’s going to take a huge effort,” he said. “What you are fighting against is the tide of racism and issues built into the structure of higher education that need to be tackled.”

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