According to a new report, Black college students face two distinct barriers when it comes to finishing their education: discrimination and managing too many responsibilities.
Black students reported facing barriers that prevent them from completing their undergraduate studies in six years or less, regardless of the type of certificate or degree program, according to research published Thursday by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation. The most significant factors contributing to the lower rates among Black students, the study found, were experiencing acts of discrimination and managing multiple priorities that can interfere with completing coursework.
The report compiled data in fall 2022 from 6,008 college students across different certification and degree programs, including 1,106 Black students.
Twenty-one percent of Black respondents said they felt discriminated against frequently or occasionally compared to 15% of other students. Black students were also more likely to have shared that they felt disrespected or psychologically unsafe at an institution while learning. Twenty-eight percent of Black students who attended an institution with little diversity felt physically unsafe, while 26% felt disrespected and 27% felt psychologically unsafe.
But rates of discriminatory experiences differed by program type. Thirty-two percent of Black students enrolled in short-term credential programs, including those pursuing certificates, said they’ve experienced discrimination at least occasionally. Certification programs that prepare students for industries like welding, plumbing, electricity or information technology are “pretty white-dominated fields that don’t have a lot of diversity” or “may not be a welcoming profession or organization to help these individuals feel like they belong,” said Courtney Brown, vice president of strategic impact and planning at the Lumina Foundation. Meanwhile, 16% of Black students in associate degree programs and 14% of Black students in bachelor’s degree programs said they’ve at least occasionally experienced discrimination.
Managing multiple priorities was another factor interfering with Black students’ education goals. The report found that 22% of Black students overall have caregiving responsibilities, compared to 11% of students in other racial groups, and 20% of Black students overall have full-time jobs, compared to 11% of other racial groups.
Aside from discrimination and the task of managing responsibilities, the data also acknowledged other barriers making it difficult for Black students to complete their education, including the high costs of attending school. An April 2022 report by The Education Trust found that because Black women fall within two marginalized groups, they make less money and often have to take out more loans to cover the cost of attending college.
Brown said that ultimately, lower college enrollment and completion creates “a huge problem for our economy and our society.”
“There’s a labor shortage, and we have knowledgeable, able people that should be able to take these jobs but aren’t having the opportunity to get the skills they need,” Brown said. “That’s problematic. It impacts these individuals, their families, their generational wealth, the money they’re able to put back into the community. It impacts their ability to do community service, to participate in civic life — because they’re having to work full time to maintain multiple jobs, you know, barely make ends meet in these really low-wage jobs.”
Brown said this cycle can be disrupted if more institutions take Black students’ needs into account for students’ varied lives, whether it means cultivating more diverse faculty members, lowering the barriers to financial aid, establishing stricter anti-discrimination policies, or providing more emotional and logistic support to get through school.
“I hope that institutions are able to serve the whole student and really think about, ‘OK, these are barriers that our students are facing,’” Brown said. “‘So, how do we make sure that we’re offering scholarships that don’t require full-time enrollment because our students can’t enroll full time because if they have a full-time job and they’re taking care of children?’ That they offer perhaps child care on campuses. Perhaps they offer food banks and other things to better serve these students.”