The Relationship Between College Graduation, Race, and Time? It’s Complicated

The race gap has narrowed significantly in college enrollments, with 65 percent of black high school graduates attending college, compared to just under 70 percent of whites in 2011, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. However, the gap in graduation rates remains wide and admission to college has little value if a degree isn’t the end result.

college grads

(Photo Credit: stevendepolo/Flickr)

A timeline of graduation rates at four-year colleges shows that in 1996, about 58 percent of whites and 69 percent of Asians who entered college had a bachelor’s degree six years later, as compared to 39 percent of blacks and 46 percent of Hispanic students, according to data from the Department of Education.

Less than 10 years later, those numbers had shifted somewhat for all groups, but barely at all for black students. Of students entering college in 2005 (the most recent data available), only 40 percent of blacks had a degree in six years compared with 62 percent of whites, and 51 percent of Hispanics.

However, this data may not even represent the true depths of the gap. The Department of Education’s statistics do not include part-time students, students at two-year colleges, and transfer students. All three of these groups are directly affected by one major factor linked to low graduation rates: length of time in school. A 2011 report published by Complete College America shows the longer a student is in school, the less likely they are to finish.

(Image Credit: FiveThirtyEight)

Ben Casselman, chief economics writer for FiveThirtyEight, writes “Anything that slows students down, whether it’s enrolling part-time, taking remedial courses, or starting off in community college, makes students less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree.”

Minority students are much more likely to be impacted by all those factors.

Looking at educational attainment across race shows the impact graduation rates have. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, in 2013, about 40 percent of whites between the ages of 25 and 29 had a bachelor’s degree or more, compared to about 20 percent of blacks, 15 percent of Hispanics, and 58 percent of Asians.

In order to narrow the race gap, finding ways to reduce the amount of time it takes minority students to get a degree is critical. According to data from the Department of Education, less than a third of full-time community college students complete an associate's degree within three years. That number doesn’t even include part-time students, and according to Complete College America, less than 25 percent of part-time students complete a bachelor’s degree within eight years of enrollment.

Schools need to look at how long it’s taking students to attain degrees or how long students are in school before they drop out. Getting more minority students into full-time, four-year degree programs may be a start. Students considering their educational options should investigate the ROI on four-year colleges and find potential schools that match their personal criteria.

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What can be done to narrow the race gap in college graduation? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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