February 20, 2023
Students’ race and ethnicity affect their chances of earning a college degree, according to several new reports on higher education released in January and February 2023. However, the picture that emerges depends on the lens you use. College degrees are increasing among all racial and ethnic groups, but white and Asian Americans are far more likely to hold a college degree or earn one than Black, Hispanic or Native Americans.
Earning a college degree involves two steps: starting college and finishing college. Before the pandemic, white, Black and Hispanic Americans were enrolling in college at about the same rates, especially when unemployment was high and jobs were hard to find. (Asian Americans enrolled in college at much higher rates.) The bigger distinction is that once a student has started college, the likelihood of making it through the coursework and tuition payments and ultimately earning a degree varies so much by race and ethnicity.
First, let’s begin with enrollment. There are two ways to look at this. One is to see how the demographic makeup of college campuses has changed over time, becoming less white and more Hispanic. The pie charts below were produced in January by the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization that provides data reporting services to colleges. In conjunction with these services, it monitors trends in higher education by aggregating the data submitted by more than 3,600 institutions, representing 97 percent of the students at the nation’s degree-granting colleges and universities. Earlier this year, the organization launched a DEI Data Lab site to put a spotlight on how college enrollment, persistence and completion vary by race and ethnicity.