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Report Finds Demographics of College Graduates Do Not Reflect Changes in Overall Student Body

May 16, 2013


​A new analysis from ACE finds that individuals who earned their baccalaureate degrees in 2007-08 were not nearly as racially diverse as the overall undergraduate student body. They were largely unmarried, childless, white young adults in their early 20s who were financially dependent on their parents and who seamlessly moved along the path toward degree attainment.

The data-rich analysis also indicates that immediately after earning their degree, many of these graduates were between jobs or moving in and out of the labor force, although the situation had improved slightly a year later. By 2009, one in five of this group of graduates had returned to school.

With College Degree in Hand: Analysis of Racial Minority Graduates and Their Lives After College is the third installment of ACE’s Diversity Matters in U.S. Higher Education issue brief series, which is generously supported by the GE Foundation. It uses U.S. Department of Education data from a nationally representative sample of 1.5 million first-time baccalaureate degree recipients in the academic year 2007-08, the most recently available data.

“With graduation season in full swing, we are grateful for the support of the GE Foundation in allowing us to take a close look at this group of graduates and their early outcomes,” said Kim Bobby, director of ACE’s Inclusive Excellence Group. “Minority students clearly face different barriers to graduation than others.”

Among the report’s key findings in three areas:

Overall Profile:

  • Whites represented three out of every four students completing a bachelor’s degree. Students tended to be young (an average age of 18.7 at the time of college entry) and to have graduated within five years, with Asian Americans and whites more likely to be the traditional age than other minority groups. Most graduates also came from upper or middle-class family backgrounds, and 58 percent were women.
  • Most baccalaureate earners started at a four-year institution (71 percent) and attended only one institution till graduation (68 percent). Eight in 10 never “stopped out” before earning their degrees.

Early Labor Market Outcomes:

  • In 2007-08, 58 percent of graduates were between jobs or moving in and out of the labor force, 39 percent worked full-time or part-time throughout the year, and 3 percent stayed out of the labor force. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders had the highest rate of continuous employment after graduation (50 percent), while Asian Americans had the lowest (27 percent).
  • Approximately one year later, 84 percent of graduates had paid jobs, including part-time positions, and improvement was seen across racial/ethnic groups. American Indians and Alaska Natives were most likely to work full time (87 percent) and Asian Americans were least likely to do so (53 percent). However, fewer than half of those employed reported having jobs closely related to their bachelor’s degree field (46 percent).
  • Graduates who were employed full time in 2009 had a median annual salary of $35,000, although there were disparities by race/ethnicity, gender and college major. In particular, women degree holders from every racial/ethnic origin already earned less than men at the start of their careers.

Post-baccalaureate Education:

  • By 2009, 21 percent of degree holders had enrolled in an additional degree or certificate program at the graduate (19 percent) or undergraduate (2 percent) level. Sixty-three percent of those enrolled in postgraduate education were in a master’s degree program. Enrollment rates for African American men and women were higher than those of all other racial/ethnic groups except Asian American men.
  • Of the full-time students in graduate programs, 86 percent indicated they had received some form of financial aid. Forty-three percent of students had borrowed federal loans averaged at about $23,000, and 95 percent of them already had $26,700 in debt from undergraduate loans.
  • Those who applied before graduation were far more likely to enroll in postgraduate education, and one in four had applied during that time frame.

“While it is encouraging to see minority graduates continuing their education at rates on par with others, the chronic gap between our graduating classes and our student bodies in terms of demographic and educational realities is a huge concern,” said Mikyung Ryu, ACE’s interim director of the Center for Policy Analysis and the report’s author. “Given shifting student demographics, this gap will likely widen unless we undertake serious efforts to eradicate barriers for nontraditional and disadvantaged minority students.”

The brief is free to ACE member presidents and can also be purchased on ACE's website. It is part of the Diversity Matters in U.S. Higher Education series, which is designed to provide campus leaders with timely, cutting-edge and actionable information they can share with the members of their campus community on a broad range of topics revolving around diversity and inclusion in U.S. higher education.

MEDIA CONTACT: Jon Riskind ▪ 202-939-9453 ▪

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