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Is College Really the Best Option for Black Students?

Updated on December 25, 2009

Is College the Best Choice for Black Students?

Okay, first off I know this can be a very controversial topic, so let me say this up front: this isn't about one race versus another, I'm looking at this as a statistical question based on the so called "Big Pay Off" report put together by the U.S. Census Bureau and is often used as the main argument for why high school students should go to college. The problem is that this report is often misquoted, and I think it's only fair that if college is going to be painted as the one and only best way for black students to get ahead and have a better life, then that statement should be investigated to make damn sure that it's actually true. This is true of any student looking at going through 4 years at $60,000-$220,000 of cost. You had better be sure the numbers are true. So what does this study show?

After doing a quick article on the pay difference between male and female college graduates, as well as an article showcasing the million dollar lie, we thought we would focus on minorities who go to college. The worst thing that could possibly happen to young students is paying a lot of money to attend college, only to not finish. Ask almost any high school student, college student, or parent what the college drop out rate is, and their guess will almost certainly be far better than the actual numbers. The percentage of people who attend a four year college without obtaining a degree within six years is extremely high, right around 50%. That's right - almost 1 out of 2 students will dropout, and this rate actually increases with minority students. Considering that they're the ones who have to pay for college and who are going into massive debt to do so, shouldn't they make sure that college is the right decision and that they're not mortgaging their future?

This article is going to focus on real survey numbers taken from the United States, as well as possible pay differences between white gradates and black graduates after college. There has been a huge movement on telling young students, including minorities and students from troubled high schools, that the best way to change your life is by going to college. While college can be a path to a good career and a better life, it's far from a slam dunk and college for most students is not nearly as effective as the media, colleges, or politicians make it out to be. For some students, college can be a life shattering decision.

So once again, this is about truth and about helping young men and women to make informed decisions based on facts and not popular misconceptions - please read through this hub to see what I mean.

Extremely High Drop Out Rates

What should be the biggest worry for black students (or any students, for that matter) who attend college?  It has to be the very high dropout rate. Around 50% of all college students are not going to finish a 4 year college with a college degree within six years.  David Leonhardt wrote a great article in the New York Times showing how many colleges have been failing their students, with the University of Massachusetts graduating only 33%, the University of New Mexico 44%, and the University of Montana at 41%.  Among the rich countries in the world, only Italy graduates a lower percent. ( 

Seeing that the graduation rate is already literally a coin flip is worrisome enough, but the numbers in the United States get even worse when looking at minority graduation rates.  According to a study conducted by Kevin Carey, called, "Graduation Rate Watch: Making Minority Student Success a Priority" only 40% of African Americans graduate from college.  It is very hard to imagine, but 6 out of every 10 black college students are not going to get their degree, a ridiculous number.  Even worse than having a degree that won't get you a job are all those students who have the student loans and student debt, but not even the degree to show for it, and currently among black students that would be the majority.

The same study by Kevin Carey really shows the failure of America's Education system.  Only 6% of low income black males will receive a college degree by their mid-20's.  While the statistical numbers show college as a disaster for many students in the bottom third of their class, or in lowest income bracket, the numbers are that much worse for low income black males, making getting through college an almost impossible choice. 

ABC News Questions Value of College

How Are Such Low Graduation Rates Tolerated?

There have been some who say that it seems like many colleges just do not care if minority students graduate, and there might be a lot of truth to that.  The thing that colleges are going to be the most worried about are national rankings.  According to Kevin Carey's study, overall graduation rates are taken into consideration for rankings such as the U.S. News & World Report.  In that serious of rankings, they don't care about gender or race when looking at graduation rates, they just care about the overall graduation rates.  There is no incentive for colleges to increase black student graduation rates-they get paid their loans and government grants regardless if students finish or not.

You would think with black student graduation rates being low, colleges would worry about fixing that problem.  However, many colleges focus heavily on recruiting poor neighborhoods with false promises.  The line about making a million dollars more in a lifetime is often used on radio ads and by college recruiters.  They seem to forget to mention how hard it is going to be to graduate, or that the number mainly applies to doctors, lawyers, or business majors, or that the million dollar figure is actually wrong to begin with.

CNN - College Grads Go to Unemployment Lines

Do Black Graduates Make Less?

Changing gears slightly, we wanted to take a quick look at earnings over a lifetime for black college graduates compared to white college graduates.  According to the study, "The Big Pay Off" by Jennifer Cheeseman Day and Eric C. Newburger, black graduates will make about $1.7 million on average in a lifetime compared to $2.2 million on average for white graduates.  This includes both men and women graduates, with less money being made by female graduates, and more for male graduates. This means the numbers are even worse for black female college graduates, and makes one wonder how much the college degree may or may not actually be worth.  


What we have learned is that it is going to be much harder for black students to graduate college with a degree than for white students.  Those black graduates are also probably going to make less money once out of college.  There are a lot of reasons for this, and what we want to point out is that the real issue here are colleges not stepping up to the plate to fix a broken system. Education can be a valuable commodity, and we believe in the intentions of organizations like the United Negro College Fund, but is the system so broken that they are inadvertently making things worse by funneling talented young people into a money trap they're unlikely to gain from?

College graduation rates need to increase sharply, especially minority graduation rates.  The worst mistake a young person can make it taken on college debt without receiving a college degree.  It's far harder for college graduates to get a good job than colleges, the media, or politicians will ever admit to, but to have student loan debt and NO degree at all is a no win situation.  With no accountability in sight for colleges who do not increase minority graduation rates, how is this problem going to be fixed?  I really do not know, but I think it's an issue that's too important to be quiet about because we're nervous or scared of offending someone.  Please feel free to leave comments, thoughts, or discussion in the comments section, but keep it respectful and on task and maybe somewhere in all the talk we can figure out some things that might just help.

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