African-American Students

1 February 2017 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. Less than half of African American students graduate within six years and 43% of African American Pell Grant recipients drop out before earning a degree. In 2015, 21% of the African American population aged 25 to 29 held a bachelor’s degree, compared to 43% of the white population for the same age range.


  • In fall of 2014, more than 70% of African American high school graduates enrolled in college. Prior to 2014, the rate had been hovering at just less than 60%.
  • African American students, make up 15% of the undergraduate population, but are not equally represented at different institution types.
    • 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.
  • Academically talented minority students rarely enroll in top colleges.
    • Only 9% of African American college students are enrolled at elite research institutions.
    • 30% of African American students who had an A average in high school enrolled at community colleges compared to 22% of white students with a similar academic record.
  • Bachelor’s degree attainment for African Americans aged 25 to 29 has increased more slowly than among white students.
    • 21% of African Americans aged 25 to 29 had bachelor’s degrees in 2015, up 6 percentage points from 15% in 1995.
    • By comparison, degree attainment for white 25 to 29-year olds increased 14 percentage points from 29% to 43% during the same time period.
  • In 2015, approximately 33% of African American adults had at least a two-year college degree, an increase from 28% in 2007. Among white adults, this level of degree attainment grew from 41% in 2007 to 47% in 2015.
  • Female African American students were enrolled in higher percentages than male African American students.
    • In 2013, females made up 62% of the total African American undergraduate student enrollment.


  • 85% of African American students received Pell Grants in 2011-12, compared with 69% of white students. Pell Grants are awarded based on financial need.
  • More than 40% of African American families had student loan debt in 2013, compared with 28% of white families.
  • 72% of African American students took out federal student loans, compared with 56% of white students in 2013.
  • In the 2011-12 academic year, African American students took out larger federal loans on average ($10,320) than Hispanic ($9,760), Asian ($9,790), and American Indian/Alaska Native ($8,260) students. On average, white students took out slightly higher loan amounts than African American students ($10,620).
  • Though roughly 67% of African-American undergraduates receive some kind of Pell Grant support each year, only about 14% receive the full award amount. This is mostly a result of part-time enrollment, which makes students ineligible for the full award amount.


“Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2016.” U.S. Department of Education, August 2016.

“The Condition of Education.” U.S. Department of Education, May 2016.

“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.

Updated February 2017



[1] Black enrollment more than doubled between 1990 and 2013.
[2] Data comes from 2013.