Study highlights racial disparities in credential attainment

A new analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress suggests that, compared with white students, Black and Hispanic students disproportionately obtain associate degrees and certificates—credentials that provide a smaller return on investment. The report, which reflects federal data on the number of degrees and certificates earned by Black, Hispanic, and white students from 2013 through 2015, calculates that “if Black and Hispanic graduates earned each degree type at the same rate as their white peers, more than 1 million more would have earned a bachelor’s degree in just those three years.” The analysis also points out that white students are more likely to graduate from well-established colleges and universities, while Black and Hispanic graduates are far more likely to attend for-profit institutions.

“These gaps also show up in the fields in which students receive their bachelor’s degree,” CJ Libassi, a senior policy research analyst for the Center for American Progress, told Diverse Issues in Higher Education. Libassi, for instance, pointed to the report’s finding that if Black and Hispanic bachelor’s degree recipients majored in engineering at the same rate as white students, the U.S. would have graduated 20,000 more engineers during the three years studied.

The researchers suggest several ways to help alleviate the disparities highlighted by their analysis, starting with the inclusion of racial equity measures in federal accountability structures. They also propose creating a federal student-level data system to track outcomes by race, using state-level data to monitor equity gaps in completion, and learning from schools that have successfully addressed racial gaps.

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