Black and graduating: confronting racial disparities in universities

Black and graduating: confronting racial disparities in universities

As we approach these next chapters of our lives, there’s a lot of conversation about college and where we plan on spending our next four years. On top of this, for a lot of Black students, the likelihood of receiving our degrees within that time frame has shown to be low in comparison to white students. 

In a study by the Gallup-Lumina Foundation in 2023, data showed that 40% of Black students from four-year universities and colleges receive their degrees within six years, compared to 64% of white students. The study also found that black students not attending an HBCU were an additional 24% less likely to receive their degrees at all. 

As a black student at a predominantly black school, these statistics concern me and add a whole new level of stress as I begin making my college decisions. It’s no longer just about choosing the school with the best program or the most affordable tuition. Now I’m wondering what extra steps I must take to graduate from that school with the rest of my class.

H-F Post Secondary Counselor Kevin Coy feels there could be several different issues and circumstances that have contributed to the statistic. 

 “That’s a pretty large discrepancy and you tend to question what type of resources the African American students are getting in the four-year school schooling system,” Coy shared, concerning the large discrepancy in experiences between black students and white counterparts in four-year schooling. 

Identifying resources is helpful for anyone entering an unfamiliar space and for black students, I think it might be the most important thing we do as we step onto a new campus, whether that be taking advantage of retention programs available for students of color at some universities or simply just asking questions about what we can do to be successful in college. 

“Honestly, I think we have to go into college taking it personally,” Coy stated. This means we have to understand that if we’re not graduating on time, then it’s our responsibility to go into the situation ready to combat that issue. 

Here’s how to at a glance.

Attend class. That’s the most important thing students can do. Not only are you only hurting yourself by falling behind, but you’re wasting your money as well. 

Be comfortable asking for help. Self-advocacy is incredibly important, especially in college and the more proactive you are, the easier it’ll be to get back on track. Communicate with your teachers and show them you’re serious about earning your degree. 

One of the most important things students can do is be an advocate financially for themselves.  Introduce yourself to the financial aid person that first semester and speak to them throughout the year about scholarships. Make them know who you are. Having someone who understands your situation can be incredibly beneficial so make as many relationships as you can and invest in the school. Feeling like the school is your home is going to help give students and students of color an advantage of graduating on time and feeling like they belong.

Although it can be exhausting to constantly have a chip on your shoulder and to always feel like you’re always having to prove something, unfortunately in a society where racial imbalances are prevalent throughout everything we do, it seems like this might be our only option for now.

Coy advises black students here at H-F to stay hopeful that over time, these numbers will eventually shrink and to really think about the people before us who have set this path for us. “Think about them but also realize that we’re in this position now and we need to be those people that are stepping forward and helping out ourselves.” 

So finish strong seniors and advocate for yourselves like never before because the rest of our lives are just beginning and it’s up to us to make sure we’re reaching our full potential. 


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