Higher Education

College degree gap grows wider between whites, blacks and Latinos

State funding is down and tuition is up since the recession

The racial gap in who’s graduating from college has widened since 2007, a new report shows.

While more blacks and Latinos are graduating from college now, the percentage of whites graduating has grown even faster.

About 33 percent of African-American adults had at least a two-year college degree in 2015, up from about 28 percent in 2007. For Latinos, that figure grew to about 23 percent from 19 percent, while whites grew to 47 percent from 41 percent.

At the same time, states have cut the funding they provide to public colleges, per student, by 21 percent since the economic collapse in 2008, and have raised tuition by 28 percent. As public colleges become more costly, it’s harder for low-income students to finish a degree. In many states, those students are disproportionately black and Latino.

Many states have increased public-college funding in the past year, but in only two states has the level of funding recovered to where it was before the recession. Amid the presidential race, the national conversation has become infused with debate about student debt and the importance of college degrees in the future job market. But even the most affordable state colleges are a long way from providing access to those who need it most.

“When you think about college affordability, student debt and racial equity, you really have to look at state budgets,” said Tom Allison, author of the report and the deputy director of policy and research at the Young Invincibles, a youth advocacy and policy analysis group. “So many national conversations skip over this vital piece.”

Related: Black students are drastically underrepresented at top public colleges, data show

The widely accepted prediction is that 65 percent of jobs by 2020 will require education beyond high school. So state economies and the wellbeing of states’ residents could suffer if these trends continue.

“I was very surprised to see that the attainment gap grew by over two points,” Allison said of the gap between whites and blacks and Latinos. “When you see tuition skyrocket so much, and when you see the spending cuts, that’s just going to exacerbate the problem.”

Immigration could be one factor in this trend. For example, California has a large number of new immigrants and also has the widest gap in college degrees between Latinos (17 percent) and whites (51 percent). Tuition at some of its state colleges is relatively low, but has risen by 56 percent since 2007. Allison pointed out that it’s also difficult for a family with a ninth grader to know how much they will need to pay by the time their child is applying to college.

Related: Despite efforts to increase them, university graduation rates fall

But immigration does not explain the wide gap – 18 percentage points – in college degrees between whites and African-Americans in California.

A report last year by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that some states had begun to replenish their funding to state colleges, at least a bit. Nationally, per-student spending on higher education grew by almost 4 percent in 2014-15. But that report also pointed out the wide variety in states’ approaches — 13 of them had actually cut funding.

And Kentucky has actually narrowed the gap in college degrees between blacks and whites by 12 percentage points since 2007, and that between Latinos and whites by 16 points. Meanwhile the racial gaps in Maryland have grown by 12 and 10 percentage points, respectively.

Federal proposals to solve the college debt and college degree problems continue to proliferate, but three-quarters of students go to state-funded public colleges. This latest report suggests that an effective solution may require state-level changes.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.  Read more about Higher Education.

States with widest gaps in college degrees (black/white)

Black White Gap
West Virginia 24% 48% 24 points
Wisconsin 22% 45% 23 points
North Carolina 28% 50% 22 points
Connecticut 29% 50% 21 points
Massachusetts 32% 53% 21 points
Minnesota 27% 47% 20 points
Colorado 34% 53% 19 points
Ohio 24% 42% 18 points
Nevada 24% 42% 18 points
California 33% 51% 18 points



States with widest gaps in college degrees (Latino/white)

Latino White Gap
California 17% 51% 34 points
Colorado 20% 53% 33 points
Massachusetts 22% 53% 30 points
Nevada 14% 42% 29 points
Connecticut 22% 50% 28 points
New York 21% 48% 27 points
Illinois 19% 45% 26 points
Virginia 18% 44% 26 points
North Carolina 24% 50 % 26 points
Vermont 18% 44% 26 points

*Degree holders were counted in their state of residence, which is not necessarily the state where they attended college.

Source: Young Invincibles Student Impact Project, 2016 Report Cards

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Meredith Kolodner

Meredith Kolodner is a staff writer. She previously covered schools for the New York Daily News and was an editor at InsideSchools.org and for The… See Archive