ACE Unveils New Resource on the Status of Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education
February 14, 2019

​A seminal ACE report explores the evolving state of race and ethnicity in the higher education landscape and shows that while the number of students of color on our nation’s college and university campuses continues to rise, gaps in access, attainment, and debt levels remain.  

The report, Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education: A Status Report, examines more than 200 indicators drawn from 11 data sources, the majority of which were collected by federal agencies—the Department of Education, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Census Bureau. An accompanying microsite allows users to download the report and explore the data in greater detail. 

“While communities of color have made tremendous educational headway over the last several decades, we cannot lose focus. Substantial and pervasive inequities still remain. Making higher education and its benefits accessible to people from all backgrounds is imperative for the well-being and advancement of American society,” said ACE President Ted Mitchell. “We hope this report and its accompanying microsite promote dialogue and action among those who strive to adapt and respond to the needs of students, faculty, and staff of color.”

Overall, the report found that progress has been made for nearly all groups. Between the academic years 1995–96 and 2015–16, the share of students of color among all undergraduate students increased from about 30 percent to approximately 45 percent. This increase was largely driven by an increase in Hispanic undergraduate enrollment, the report said. 

However, despite these gains in enrollment, Hispanic men and women and indigenous populations earned college degrees at lower levels than other racial and ethnic groups. Additionally, in 2016, Black students dropped out at higher rates than any other racial and ethnic groups across all sectors of higher education.

One of the most notable and consistent findings that emerged from the data was that Black students were most likely to borrow and accrue higher levels of educational debt than other students, with Asian and Hispanic students the least likely to borrow. 

“As a higher education community, we ought to be very concerned about what are, in many cases, longstanding trends that show differing levels of postsecondary access and success across racial and ethnic groups,” said Lorelle Espinosa, ACE vice president of research and the report’s lead author. “It’s encouraging to see more students of color pursuing undergraduate and graduate education than 20 years ago. However, as policymakers, institutional leaders, and others seek to make college more accessible and affordable for everyone, it is important to recognize the many barriers and uneven levels of opportunity facing students of color.” 

For example, larger shares of undergraduate and graduate students of color enrolled in, and completed degrees at, for-profit institutions. This was particularly true of Black students and students from indigenous backgrounds. At every degree level and within almost every racial and ethnic group, those who received degrees from for-profit institutions borrowed at higher rates and accumulated larger debts than those who enrolled nonprofit institutions. For instance, 87 percent of associate degree completers at for-profit institutions borrowed an average of $26,231 to pay for college, compared with 40 percent of associate degree completers at public two-year institutions, who borrowed an average of $15,486.

Patterns of borrowing among Black graduate students were deeply concerning. Approximately 50 percent of Black doctoral students were enrolled at for-profit colleges; of Black doctoral recipients at for-profit institutions, nearly all (95 percent) took out loans, with an average debt of $128,359.

The report found that there is still a lack of precise, national data on many educational outcomes for American Indians or Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders. 

Also, the report found racial and ethnic diversity among college faculty, staff, and administrators still does not reflect that of today’s college students. Between 1996 and 2016, the non-White share of undergraduates grew from 29.6 percent to 45.2 percent, while the non-White share of graduate students grew from 20.8 percent to 32.0 percent. Even so, college faculty, staff, and administrators remain predominantly White.

Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education: A Status Report and the microsite were made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and were guided by an advisory committee of experts specializing in issues related to diversity, equity, economics, and public policy, chaired by Sandy Baum of the Urban Institute. The Research Triangle Institute International collaborated with ACE on project conception, data, and microsite construction.

ACE will be holding a convening today to explore key findings from the report and share opportunities for future action on these issues by scholars, policymakers, institutional leaders, practitioners, and the media. The convening is presented with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The public and the media are invited to attend virtually via livestream at the National Press Club at 9 a.m. EST. Contact Audrey Hamilton with ACE Public Affairs for details on how to register as media. Other attendees can register to attend here

Media Contact
Audrey Hamilton
Telephone:(202) 939-9353

​Explore the Microsite

Download the reports, data tables, and individual chapters. Browse an extensive resource library and access data tables.

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