AAC&U News, October 2016
Facts & Figures

Postsecondary Enrollment and Attainment Across Racial and Ethnic Groups

Although young people across all racial and ethnic groups are earning postsecondary degrees at higher rates than in the past, disparities among different groups remain, according to a recent report issued by the Department of Education. These disparities reflect ongoing challenges to achieving equity in postsecondary access and completion.

Based on data collected through 2013, the report shows that white students between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four are enrolled in higher education institutions at a higher rate than black or Hispanic students of the same age, while Asian students of the same age are enrolled at a rate of 62 percent, surpassing the enrollment rates of their white, black, and Hispanic peers. The report also measured the six-year graduation rate of students who began at a college or university in 2007; those results also showed significant disparities among racial and ethnic groups.

The report includes data disaggregated within ethnic groups. For example, the authors note that in 2013, among students of Hispanic descent, 25 percent of Guatemalan young adults and 62 percent of Venezuelan young adults were enrolled in higher education. In the same year, among students of Asian descent, 20 percent of young people of Bhutanese descent and 84 percent of young people of “other Southeast Asian” (primarily Indonesian and Malaysian) descent were enrolled at a college or university.

Enrollment Rates Among Various Groups

  • In 2013, 42 percent of white eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds were enrolled in a higher education institution.
  • Thirty-four percent of both black and Hispanic young adults in the same age group were enrolled in a higher education institution.
  • From 2003 to 2013, the gap between white and Hispanic students enrolled in higher education decreased from eighteen to eight percentage points, but the enrollment gap between white and black students did not change significantly.
  • In 2013, 81 percent of Asian students enrolled at a college or university immediately after finishing high school, though rates varied significantly among Asian students of different nationalities.

Overall Increases in Enrollment Rates

  • From 1990 to 2013, total autumn higher education enrollment among Hispanic students increased from 6 percent to 17 percent.
  • During the same time period, enrollment among black students rose from 10 percent to 15 percent, and enrollment among Asian/Pacific Islander students rose 2 percentage points.

Graduation Rates

  • In 2013, the six-year graduation rate for full-time, first-time undergraduate students who enrolled in fall 2007 was 59 percent.
  • Students of Asian descent and students of two or more races had the highest six-year graduation rate, at 71 percent and 68 percent, respectively.
  • Black and American Indian/Native Alaskan students had the lowest six-year graduation rate, with each at 41 percent.

Did You Know?

  • Across racial and ethnic groups, students rely differentially on loans to finance their educations. In 2011–2012, approximately 72 percent of black students received some type of loan, as did 62 percent of American Indian/Native Alaskan students, 59 percent of students of two or more races, 56 percent of white students, 51 percent of Hispanic students, 51 percent of Pacific Islander students, and 38 percent of Asian students.
  • In 2012–2013, the percentage of bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields was 30 percent for Asian students, 14 percent for Hispanic students, 14 percent for American Indian/Native Alaskan students, and 11 percent for black students.  
  • Between 2002–2003 and 2012–2013, the number of bachelor’s degrees conferred to Hispanic students more than doubled, and the number of bachelor’s degrees conferred to black students increased by 54 percent.    


About AAC&U News

AAC&U News is written and edited by Ben Dedman. If you have questions or comments about the newsletter's contents, please e-mail dedman@aacu.org.


Join AAC&U's Associates Program
Please contact memberservices@aacu.org for questions about AAC&U membership.