What’s Keeping Black College Students From Making the Grade?

Black college students are falling behind in key areas.

The hardest test Black college students face may not be the one taken during mid-terms, but the test they face from society: Can they remain competitive in the global marketplace?


For this test, it seems, there is no answer key.


Specifically, Black college students are falling behind in key areas. The U.S. Department of Education reports a disparity between Blacks and their white classmates. For students who enrolled in postsecondary education in 2003, only 16.7 percent of Black students earned a bachelor’s degree by 2009 — that’s compared to 36.4 percent of white students who entered college at the same time.


About eight percent of Black students earned a two-year associate’s degree by 2009, compared to 10 percent of white students at the same time, the study reports.


The chasm continues to widen in a new analysis from The Pew Hispanic Center, which shows that young Latinos now make up the second-largest ethnic group enrolled at U.S. colleges, surpassing African-Americans for the first time.


“This is a growing population, but it’s more than that,” said Richard Fry, a senior research associate at Pew. “This is a growing population that is increasingly finishing high school and increasingly going to college.…There’s a good message here."


That message could be an omen of tougher times to come for Blacks trying to remain competitive in the increasingly more unpredictable job market.


However, the students who are in school have made gains at institutions with traditionally low Black enrollment.


The University of South Carolina reported an increase in Black freshman enrollment this fall, up about eight percent from a year ago, when 287 black freshmen enrolled. African-Americans make up 28 percent of the college-age population in South Carolina, though they make up only seven percent of the first-year enrollments at the state’s flagship university.


Cornell University also found in increase in Black enrollment, reporting 209 African-American freshmen on campus this fall, up from 172 last year, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reports. That is an increase of 21.5 percent from a year ago. Blacks make up six percent of this year’s entering class, an increase from five percent in 2010.


Between the uncertain economy, nightmarish Black employment rates and college tuition crunch, it’s nearly impossible to nail down a single contributor for why Black college students are falling behind.


One central cause could be linked to the fact that ACT scores for Blacks are consistently lower overall. The ACT exam is taken by high school seniors and is often used as a basis for college admittance. It is scored on a scale of 1 to 36.


According to The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, in 2011 the average ACT score for Blacks was 17.0. The average score for white students in 2011 was 23.6.


(Photo: Tami Chappell/Reuters)

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