Closed Doors: Black and Latino Students are Excluded from Top Public Universities

By Jael Greene

The Center for American Progress recently released a brief titled Closed Doors: Black and Latino Students are Excluded from Top Public Universities. This brief analyzed federal data and examined enrollment at three types of public colleges in the fall of 2014: top research universities, other four-year colleges, and community colleges. This data was used to determine that Black and Latino students are underrepresented at top public research universities. In the fall semester of 2014, 297,000 African American and Latino students were enrolled in top public research universities in the U.S. If these student populations were proportionately represented at these schools, there would be an additional 193,000 students of color receiving the same opportunities.

Among the brief’s findings:

  • African American and Latino students are significantly overrepresented in nearly every state at less-selective public four-year colleges and community colleges.
    • 40% of African American and 32% of Latino students were enrolled at four-year regional colleges in 2014. During that same time period, community and technical colleges enrolled 51% of African American students and 56% of Latino students.
  • While top public research universities enroll 18% of the total U.S. student population, including 31% of Asian and 19% of white students, they enroll African American and Latino students at much lower rates.
    • These universities enroll 9% of African American and 12% of Latino students. If 18% of all Latino and African American students attended these universities, we would see an additional 91,099 Latino students and 102,035 African American students enrolled.
  • Top public research universities have an average graduation rate that is [generally] nearly double that of less-selective public colleges. Likewise, students at public four-year universities are more likely to graduate than community college students.
    • These differences lead to large gaps in national college attainment rates. Only 21% of African American young adults and 16% of Latino young adults have bachelor’s degrees. This is significantly below the rates of white young adults (43%) and Asian young adults (63%).
  • Different states struggle to enroll students of color for numerous reasons.
    • North Carolina had the lowest level of African American students (4%) enrolled at its two top public research universities in 2014. This may be partially due to the 27% of African American students in North Carolina that attend one of the state’s five public historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs)
    • California enrolls 8% of its Latino students in top public research universities compared with 14% of overall students in the state. Two-thirds of Latino students in California attend community colleges, but this could also be explained by the design of California’s public college system where 59% of all the students are enrolled in community college.