When policymakers look at why black college graduates are doing worse than others, they should avoid the easy answer of “discrimination,” according to an economics professor who has reviewed studies on the racial gap in education.
Robert Cherry of the City University of New York’s Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center writes at RealClearPolicy that black students are following a different path that sets them up for employment and debt problems:
[One study found that a]fter two decades of modest decline, the racial gaps among both men and women increased after 2007, particularly for college graduates. Among college graduates with no more than 10 years of experience, the racial gap increased by 3.7 and 5.9 percent among men and women, respectively.
Another study found black graduates had nearly double the student debt of whites four years after graduation:
One factor is that blacks with bachelor’s degrees are more likely to go to graduate school. Almost half of the 2008 cohort of black graduates the researchers studied enrolled in graduate school within four years, compared to just 38 percent of white graduates.
Looking at unemployment rates for graduates 25 and older, Cherry extrapolates that the rate for recent black college graduates is “probably well over 10 percent” because “unemployment is concentrated among younger graduates.”
Why? Their majors, their grades and the selectivity of their colleges are factors that are being overlooked, Cherry says:
A comprehensive study found that at a group of selective public colleges, 65 percent of white students had GPAs of 2.8 or higher, compared to only 28 percent of black students. Similarly, a study of the University of Michigan, before affirmative action was upended, found that while the median GPA of black students was 2.4, with half being on academic probation at one time, three-quarters of white students had GPAs of at least 3.05.
They are more likely to major in lower-earning subjects like “human services and community organizing,” they are overrepresented in less selective schools, and for those who leave these schools with weak grades and then pursue graduate school,
they would have faced competition due to their weak college records, forcing many to enroll in for-profit schools and less-selective private universities. In many cases, these efforts did not result in successful outcomes.
Cherry is blunt:
All of this calls into question efforts to encourage students, including black students, to focus on four-year degrees regardless of their academic credentials by first entering the community colleges where they face remediation hurdles. The graduate rates at CUNY community colleges are dismal — below 20 percent, in some cases. Rather than discouraging the most at-risk students from matriculating, advocates have successfully convinced the administration to eliminate many of the requirements on the math entrance exam. Do we really need more college graduates with little knowledge of mathematics? And if they fail to obtain professional employment, how many of them will go on to graduate programs, accumulating student debt rather than marketable skills?
h/t KC Johnson