Wage gap persists for students of color with college degrees

About 30% of Black workers and 20% of Latinx workers hold bachelor’s degrees, compared to 44% of White workers. (photo courtesy of Adobe Stock)

The percentage of students of color enrolled in Tennessee colleges has steadily increased in the past decade, but national figures show that earning gaps persist among Black workers with college degrees compared to Whites.

The inequities stem from access to and completion of college-level programs with labor-market value, researchers say.

Wil Del Pilar, vice president for higher education at The Education Trust, says finishing college may be the best way to boost income over a lifetime. But for students of color, there’s one big reason a degree may not lead to long-term financial security, even if it does increase job prospects.

“We know that students of color overwhelmingly take out more debt to earn similar degrees to White students,” said Pilar. “And so, you know, I think there are these systemic inequities that continue to impact earnings.”

Pilar believes a college should be evaluated based on its graduates’ ability to find good jobs and move up in the world, not by selectivity or the academic profile of their incoming class.

He added that colleges could help reduce barriers for students of color even before they start their first semester, by eliminating SAT and ACT requirements. Pilar notes research has consistently shown the exams are a stumbling block for some populations.

“Not only low-income students and students of color, but some of the research shows it disadvantages women as well,” said Pilar. “So we think, you know, that there are other, better metrics.”

He said a person’s high school Grade Point Average is a better indicator of success in college.

In May, the University of California system opted not to use standardized test results in its admissions process for at least the next two years.

Pilar says colleges could also work harder to reflect the diversity in their state and local populations.

“But they need to look internally at the structures that they’ve created, at who they enroll, at who they hire,” said Pilar. “Who’s on faculty and who’s on staff, and take a look at their own policies.”

One study of 13 community colleges in Tennessee found those who have support structures for students of color and are committed to institutional diversity report higher retention and graduation rates, by Black and Hispanic students.

(Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation).

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