Research Roundup: Equity and Black Students in Higher Education

Two female college students of color and a Black male college student work together at a computer

Recent events have sparked a national discourse on systemic racism and racial inequities in the United States. As college students join in nationwide calls for change, postsecondary institutions, policymakers, and researchers have a compelling need to recognize and address inequities that Black students experience in higher education and to make a sustained commitment to antiracist approaches.

To inform these efforts, the College Completion Network has rounded up research focused on equity and Black students in higher education. Browse the resources below to learn more about the state of degree attainment among U.S. college students of color, the barriers and opportunity gaps that Black students experience in higher education, and potential interventions to address inequities and promote antiracism. In addition, with the increase in online learning during the pandemic, the roundup includes two studies highlighting Black students’ experiences and racial biases in online learning.

State of degree attainment among Black students in higher education

Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2018. This annual report from the National Center for Education Statistics uses descriptive statistics to identify national education trends for different racial/ethnic groups. The report covers all levels of education, and Chapter 5 focuses on students of color within postsecondary education.

Black Students at Public Colleges and Universities. A report by the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center rates public universities based on four equity indicators. These metrics provide a state-by-state rating of Black students' postsecondary access and success.

Barriers and opportunity gaps Black students experience in higher education

Advancing Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education. This U.S. Department of Education report identifies opportunity gaps for students of color, examines their progress through the postsecondary pipeline, and suggests several practices for narrowing attainment gaps.

Mitigating Barriers to Persistence: A Review of Efforts to Improve Retention and Graduation Rates for Students of Color in Higher Education. This literature review from the Canadian Center of Science and Education identifies multiple barriers that U.S. students of color face throughout college as well as potential practices to mitigate those barriers.

A Critical Race Case Analysis of Black Undergraduate Student Success at an Urban University. Critical Race Theory can serve as a useful framework when examining the experiences and outcomes of students of color in higher education. The authors of this case study apply the framework to structural issues that undermine persistence at a racially diverse 4-year postsecondary institution.

Experiences and Responses to Microaggressions on Historically White Campuses: A Qualitative Interpretive Meta-Synthesis. This qualitative study examined the experiences of Black students at historically white-majority campuses through the lens of microaggressions the students experienced from peers and faculty.

Dire Disparities: Patterns of Racially Inequitable Funding and Student Success in Public Postsecondary Education. This report from the Institute for College Access & Success examines the recent trend in decreased public funding for institutions of higher education and the disproportionately negative effect of this trend on students of color, who make up an increasing share of enrollment at public colleges.

Potential interventions to address inequities and promote antiracism in higher education

Boosting College Success Among Men of Color: Promising Approaches and Next Steps. This brief from our network’s Men of Color College Achievement research team at MDRC draws on a scan of 82 targeted programs to identify intervention strategies commonly in use by postsecondary institutions to improve college persistence and degree attainment among male students of color.

Men of Color Transitioning to College: The Case for Community Assets, Community Programs, and Social Capital. The first year of college can be a challenging time for students, even more so for first-generation students of color. In this qualitative study, researchers draw on interviews to identify key characteristics of two structured programs—the Power of Dad and a youth leadership development program—that provided mentorship and coaching to students of color as they transitioned to and navigated their first year of college.

Closing the Gap: First Year Success in College Mathematics at an HBCU. Researchers have found that developmental course sequences depress retention rates among students of color, especially in mathematics. This study evaluated an online math summer bridge program for incoming science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors at a Historically Black University. The study finds positive outcomes for program participants, including a higher first-year GPA and better first-year retention rate than STEM majors overall at the university.

Online learning and Black college students

Bias in Online Classes: Evidence from a Field Experiment. As many college students take their classes online this fall, little is known about the kind of experiences that students of color face in virtual classrooms. This field experiment, which took place before the COVID-19 pandemic, tested for race and gender bias in 124 postsecondary online courses by measuring student and instructor responses to class discussion posts during online instruction.

African American Males Learning Online: Promoting Academic Achievement in Higher Education. In this qualitative study, researchers interviewed Black male college students to identify factors that contributed to their successful completion of online courses. Factors identified included financial assistance, previous information technology (IT) training, and a non-prejudicial learning environment.