Black students in postsecondary programs face a range of difficulties that cause them to stop out of school or never enroll in the first place, says a newly released study by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation which focuses on the experiences of Black students. Titled Balancing Act: The Tradeoffs and Challenges Facing Black Students in Higher Education, the study is the first in a series that examines the state of postsecondary education, The 74 reports.
In the fall of 2022, Gallup interviewed 6,008 currently enrolled students in all levels of higher education, including 1,106 non-Hispanic Black students in short-term credential or associate or bachelor’s degree programs. Black students’ experiences varied according to the type of institution they attended and program in which they were enrolled. Twenty-one percent of Black students enrolled in postsecondary institutions reported feeling discriminated against “frequently” or “occasionally,” compared to 15% of postsecondary students from all other racial or ethnic groups. Among Black students attending institutions with the least diverse student populations, reports of occasional or frequent racial discrimination rose to 31%. Many also reported feeling psychologically (27%) or physically unsafe (28%) at those institutions.
“The fact that so many Black students are feeling physically unsafe and psychologically unsafe shows this is not just one experience at an institution that’s highlighted by the media, but it’s happening at all of the institutions to some extent,” Courtney Brown, Lumina’s vice president for impact and learning, tells The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Impacts of discrimination, shouldering multiple responsibilities
One-third of Black students reported experiencing discrimination “at least occasionally” in short-term credential programs (32%) and “frequently or occasionally” at for-profit schools (34%), a particularly concerning trend considering those institutions’ popularity with Black learners, the study says.
Black students are also more likely than others to report working full time or having caregiving responsibilities that compete with academic work. Those duties made Black students more likely to think about stopping coursework altogether, with 46% of Black bachelor’s degree students with additional responsibilities considering stopping out in the past six months, compared to 34% of students without those responsibilities.
These barriers have a deep impact on student success. Just 34% of Black adults in the U.S. hold at least an associate degree, and six-year completion rates for any type of postsecondary degree or certificate program are lower for Black students than those for any other racial or ethnic group, according to the study.
To reduce inequities and boost support for Black learners, the study suggests that institutions collect more data on their students’ experiences to gauge the barriers to postsecondary completion and build more inclusive and flexible course options so that students with other responsibilities can remain enrolled. In addition, the study notes, increasing access to counseling services can help students manage competing demands on their time while coping with other stressors.