1 in 5 Black students feel discriminated against in their postsecondary programs


Dive Brief:

  • Just over 1 in 5 Black college students, 21%, reported being discriminated against in their academic programs, according to a new joint report from the Lumina Foundation and Gallup. That’s compared to 15% of all other students.
  • Black learners enrolled in short-term credential programs were twice as likely to report discrimination compared to their peers seeking associate and bachelor’s degrees. A third of Black learners in certificate programs said they frequently or occasionally were discriminated against, versus 16% of those seeking associate degrees and 14% of those seeking bachelor’s degrees.
  • The type of institution a student attends matters too. A third of Black students enrolled at for-profit colleges, 34%, reported experiencing discrimination there, compared to 23% of Black students at private nonprofits and 17% attending public institutions.

Dive Insight:

The six-year graduation rate among Black students is 50.2%, the lowest of any racial or ethnic group, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. And 46% of Black students in four-year programs considered stopping their coursework in the past six months, the report found. This gap in attainment is rooted in the disproportionate challenges these students face both in and out of the classroom.

Researchers interviewed 6,008 current students, including 1,106 Black students, working toward a certification or an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Some 36% of Black students had additional responsibilities as full-time employees and caregivers outside of the classroom. That’s compared to 18% of other students. 

And the less diverse the student body is, the less safe and respected Black students report feeling. At the least racially diverse institutions, 31% of Black students felt discriminated against and 28% felt physically unsafe. In the most diverse programs, that number dropped to about 17% in both instances.

It’s especially noteworthy that students in certificate programs and those seeking associate degrees report such dramatically different rates of discrimination, according to Courtney Brown, Lumina’s vice president of impact and planning.

“It’s interesting to see because the short-term credentials and certificates are usually provided by associate degree institutions,” Brown said. “To me, it’s not the institution, necessarily. It’s the trades that they’re learning. Some of these are very White, male-led professions that don’t have a lot of diversity in them.”

Brown specifically highlighted programs focused on trades, like plumbing and electrical services. If Black students enrolled in such programs don’t receive the support they need, the workforce is less diverse and suffers as a result, Brown said.

To counter these inequities, colleges need to analyze enrollment data to better identify what specific barriers their Black students could be facing, the report said. Campus leaders should also develop best practices for combining in-person and online course options. 

At the student level, colleges should offer accessible counseling services focused on scheduling and managing stress to address the disproportionate challenges Black students face striking an education-life balance.

Diverse mentorship opportunities are also crucial, Brown said.

“Black students who felt like they had a mentor or professors who cared about them didn’t feel the discrimination as much,” she said. “There needs to be more effort to provide mentors so these students feel a sense of belonging at these institutions.”


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