African-American Students

21 February 2019 In Factsheets

African American Students in Higher Education

While African Americans are catching up to their white counterparts in terms of college enrollment[i], there has been less progress in closing the degree attainment gap.  In 2017, 23% of the African American population aged 25 to 29 held a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 42% of the white population for the same age range.


  • The college enrollment rate for African American students who enter immediately after completing high school (GED recipients included) was 56% in 2016, about the same as it was in 2000.
  • African American students make up 14% of the undergraduate population, but are not equally represented at different institution types. [ii]
    • African American students make up 12% of the student population at 4-year public institutions, 13% of the student population at 4-year private nonprofit institutions, and 29% of the student population at 4-year private for-profit institutions.
    • And at elite universities, the black undergraduate population has averaged 6% for the past 20 years.
  • Bachelor’s degree attainment for African Americans aged 25 to 29 has increased more slowly than among white students.
    • 23% of African Americans aged 25 to 29 held a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2017, up 5 percentage points from 18% in 2000.
    • By comparison, degree attainment for white 25 to 29-year olds increased 14 percentage points from 34% to 42% during the same time period.
  • In 2017, approximately 33% of African American adults aged 25 to 29 had at least a two-year college degree, an increase from 26% in 2000. Among white adults, this level of degree attainment grew from 44% in 2007 to 54% in 2017.
  • Female African American students were enrolled in higher percentages than male African American students.
    • In 2014, females made up 62% of the total African American undergraduate student enrollment.


  • 72% of African American students received Pell Grants in 2015-16, compared with 34% of white students. The average award for African American students was $4,900.
  • In the 2015-2016 academic year, 71% of African American students took out federal student loans, compared with 56% of white students.
  • In the 2015-16 academic year, African American students took out larger federal loans on average ($10,890) than Hispanic ($10,270), Asian ($10,700), and American Indian/Alaska Native ($9,000) students. On average, white students took out slightly higher loan amounts than African American students ($11,830).
  • Across institution types, African American students are most likely to have unmet financial need.


“Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2017.” U.S. Department of Education, July 2017.

“The Condition of Education.” U.S. Department of Education, May 2018.

“College Degree Gap Grows Wider Between Whites, Blacks and Latinos.” The Hechinger Report, January 2016.

“The Stubborn Race and Class Gaps in College Quality.” Brookings Institute, December 2015.  

“College Graduation Rates Rise, But Racial Gaps Persist and Men Still Out-Earn Women.” The Hechinger Report, May 2016.   

“The Looming Student Loan Default Crisis is Worse than We Thought.” Brookings Institutions, January 2018.

“New Federal Data Show a Student Loan Crisis for African American Borrowers.”  Center for American Progress, October 2017.

“Educational Attainment in the United States: 2017.” United States Census Bureau. December 2017.

Digest of Education Statistics: 2017.” National Center for Education Statistics. February 2018.

“When Financial Aid Falls Short.” Center for Law and Social Policy. December 2018.

The Missing Black Students at Elite American Universities.” The Atlantic. November 2015.

Updated February 2019



[i] Between 2000 and 2014, African American undergraduate enrollment increased by 57% (from 1.5 million students to 2.4 million).
[ii] Data comes from 2016.