ACE Report Underscores Lack of Diversity Among Graduates Earning Bachelor’s Degrees

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by Jamaal Abdul-Alim

Graduates

Graduates

A new report released Thursday cites lack of diversity among those who earned a bachelor’s degree in the 2007-2008 school year — as well as disparities in pay once students enter the world of work — and says things will not change until barriers that face minority students are addressed.

“The pool of students leaving with a bachelor’s degree is less diverse than the pool entering or remaining in college,” says the report, titled With College Degree in Hand: Analysis of Racial Minority Graduates and Their Lives After College, by Mikyung Ryu of the Center for Policy Analysis at the American Council on Education.

The report delineates a range of disparities that impact minority college students as they matriculate through college, from taking longer periods of time to earn a degree to borrowing more frequently and larger amounts in order to finance their college education.

“Without eradicating barriers for those minorities, traditional students will continue to dominate the new college graduate pool while other students will remain on the sidelines
by not graduating or not seeking education beyond sub-baccalaureate credentials,” says the report, which indicates that most graduates were “unmarried, childless, White young adults in their early 20s who were financially dependent on their parents for their college education and who seamlessly moved along the path toward degree attainment — characteristics typically associated with traditional college graduates.”

“With postsecondary student demographics increasingly diverging from the traditional profile,” it continues, “the future of higher education essentially depends on its ability to resolve the chronic gap between the incoming and the graduating cohort of students.”

The report relies on data from a nationally representative sample of 1.5 million first-time baccalaureate degree earners in the 2007-2008 academic year. It delves into variations that exist along racial and ethnic lines on a variety of subjects that range from early labor market outcomes and post-baccalaureate education enrollment at the time of the survey, which was administered in spring of 2009.

Much of the report deals with matters of money. For instance, it found that many bachelor’s degree earners came from middle- or upper-class family backgrounds, and that 56 percent had a college-educated parent or came from families that earn more than $60,000 annually.

While they were in college, nearly two in three college graduates — or 64 percent — were financially dependent on their parents, the report states.

“However, such advantageous backgrounds were more common among White and Asian-American graduates than others,” the report states. “Only 36 percent of African-American or Hispanic graduates had a parent who was a college graduate, a percentage far lower than for other minorities.”

Students who were financially independent generally earned less across racial lines. African-Americans had the highest income among independent students at $28,554, followed by Whites at $27,497, Hispanics at $22,902, and Asian-Americans at $13,093.

“However, given
the fact that African-American and Hispanic graduates were far more likely to be financially independent with low incomes (52 percent and 49 percent, respectively) than Whites (32 percent)
or Asian-Americans (27 percent), many more African-Americans and Hispanics would have faced financial obstacles
on their path to the bachelor’s degree,” the report states.

The report also deals with time to degree.

While most graduates from all groups completed a bachelor’s degree within five years, Whites and Asian-Americans took shorter than other groups — at 4.3 years — while African-Americans and Hispanics typically took 4.8 years and American Indians and Alaska Natives took five years.

Within those groups, African-Americans showed the most variation, the report said, with time to degree ranging from less than four years to more than 20.

The report states that while two out of three bachelor’s degree earners took out federal or other loans, African-American graduates were “more likely to borrow, and to borrow more than their peers.”

“Nearly one in four African-American borrowers (23 percent) had more than $40,000 in debt by the time they graduated, an amount that was almost equivalent to the average yearly salary of 25- to 34-year old workers with a bachelor’s degree in 2009 ($45,700),” the report states.

The report found that the average salary for 2007-2008 bachelor’s degree earners was $35,000.

“However, as
research has indicated, the median earnings data mask disparities by race/ethnicity, gender, and college major (or occupation),” the report states. “For example, over the course of their lifetimes, African-Americans and Hispanics with bachelor’s degrees make 20 percent
less than their White peers, and women as a whole earn 25 percent less than men.”

The report also notes that women baccalaureate degree holders as a whole earn 17 percent less than men at the beginning of their careers.

“Consistent with this, our analysis found the gender pay gap in every racial/ethnic category, but it also revealed pay gaps among women from different racial/ethnic backgrounds,” the report states. “As measured by average annual income, the 2007–08 bachelor’s degree recipients who were minority women working full time in STEM
or business occupations faced some significant pay gaps.

“In particular, between Asian American and Hispanic women in STEM occupations, there was an annual wage gap of $7,992, which is statistically significant.”

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