African-American Students

Facts and figures related to 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 percent of African American Pell Grant recipients drop out before earning a degree.  In 2015, 21 percent of the African American population aged 25 to 29 held a bachelor’s degree, compared to 43 percent of the white population for the same age range.


  • In fall of 2014, more than 70 percent of African American high school graduates enrolled in college. Prior to 2014, the rate had been hovering at just less than 60 percent.
  • African American students make up 15 percent of the undergraduate population, but are not equally represented across institution types.
    • African American students make up 12 percent of the student population at 4-year public institutions, 13 percent of the student population at 4-year private nonprofit institutions, and 29 percent of the student population at 4-year private for-profit institutions.
  • Academically talented minority students are much less likely to enroll in top colleges.
    • Only 9 percent of African American college students are enrolled at elite research institutions.
    • 30 percent of African American students who had an A average in high school enrolled at community colleges compared to 22 percent 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 percent of African Americans aged 25 to 29 had bachelor’s degrees in 2015, up 6 percentage points from 15 percent in 1995 percent.
    • By comparison, degree attainment for white 25 to 29 year olds increased 14 percentage points from 29 percent to 43 percent during the same time period.
  • In 2015, approximately 33 percent of African American adults had at least a two-year college degree, an increase from 28 percent in 2007. Among white adults, this level of degree attainment grew from 41 percent in 2007 to 47 percent in 2015.
  • Female African American students were enrolled in higher percentages than male African American students.
    • In 2013, females made up 62 percent of the total African American undergraduate student enrollment.


  • 85 percent of African American students received Pell Grants in 2011-12, compared with 69 percent of white students. Pell Grants are awarded based on financial need.
  • More than 40 percent of African American families had student loan debt in 2013, compared to 28 percent of white families.
  • 72 percent of African American students took out federal student loans, compared with 56 percent of white students in 2013.
  • In the 2011-2012 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


[i] Black enrollment more than doubled between 1990 and 2013.