The Economics of Higher Education, Part 3: Why Do Fewer Blacks Graduate?

(Photo: Will Folsom)

The black-white education gap has been widely observed at many age levels. In a new working paper called “Race and College Success” (abstract; PDF), Peter Arcidiacono and Cory Koedel examine why blacks who are admitted to college are so much less likely than whites to graduate:

Conditional on enrollment, African American students are substantially less likely to graduate from 4-year public universities than white students.* Using administrative micro data from Missouri, we decompose the graduation gap between African Americans and whites into four factors:  (1) racial differences in how students sort to universities, (2) racial differences in how students sort to initial majors, (3) racial differences in school quality prior to entry, and (4) racial differences in other observed pre-entry skills.  Pre-entry skills explain 65 and 86 percent of the gap for women and men respectively.  A small role is found for differential sorting into college, particularly for women, and this is driven by African Americans being disproportionately represented at urban schools and the schools at the very bottom of the quality distribution.

* “At around 40 percent, six-year graduation rates for African Americans are over twenty percentage points lower than for whites (DeAngelo et al., 2011, National Center for Education Statistics, 2012).”

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  1. CharlesJ. says:

    well as for the last statement I read with the farmer analogy. yes it is true it was put in place to correct a wrong, but it is also a reverse racism at the same time. I believe it were to be truly fair should it not be based on you income not the color of your skin. the problem you all have been discussing you all have greatly be basing it on stereotyping for both sides of the argument that black people are forced to go to bad schools. I come from a small city and I went to the underfunded schools. my high school had the highest minority population in it and was the test school for different teaching styles. I am white. my schooling was not the worst. but it was down there for my region so it was relatively. I am to normal to get almost any grants. my parents are a retired factory worker and my mother is a janitor. I am considered white. so I don’t get any money. I have a half sister that has native american and african american background. she could have gotten a completely free ride. same edcucation from the same schools. so I think AA as it was put is unfair, but at the same time. I do not think it is the cause. it may not help things. but to me its like having a cold, but you also have MS. the cold definetly does not help things, but its not the real problem. I beleive it makes a difference, just not as much as this shows. BTW my sister never took any of those grants when she went to school.

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    • Eric says:

      Good point on income/situation making more sense for affirmative action than race. Giving preference to Lebron James’, Barry Bonds’, or Clarence Thomas’ child over the white child of a janitor makes little sense.

      I think (but lack the data to know) that the people that benefit the most from affirmative action in education are non-white children/young adults that grew up in more middle class environments with good or, at least decent, schooling and parents that valued education more than children coming from more impoverished backgrounds.

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  2. Voice of Reason says:

    I think that Affirmative Action is kind of like every conference getting an automatic bid in the conference tournament. In a way, this practice kind of helps the powerhouse schools like Duke, UNC, UConn, Louisville, UK, etc. and hurts schools from power conferences who are usually on the bubble. While at the same time, it does little for the schools from awful conferences who only get in through winning their tournament. A #14 or 15 seed may miraculously win a round or two, but they’re not going to go the distance.

    Similarly, great scholars, regardless of their race will salivate at the idea of competing against mediocre students who did not get in naturally, while white students who would have ordinary got in are now going to a state university. But I think that you would have to be pretty idealistic to think that just getting into a university is going to automatically graduate affirmative action beneficiaries.

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  3. Perry says:

    I’m not sure why a working paper which has not undergone peer review and thereby intense scrutiny from other professionals is being posted here. There are numerous working papers which are never published because of methodological flaws and other problems. Perhaps the average person outside of academics is not aware of this. In the comment above, the selection of criteria for assessing difference and the definition of these criteria are not clearly discussed. The actual paper is short on these details also. I would think that peer review would point this out and ask for more justification. For example, by using the label Democrat or Republican for these students, one could conclude that because they are more likely to be Democratic, they are more likely to not graduate. But, this would not be logical. An association is not the same as causation. Similar questions could be asked about the criteria above. Perhaps economics is more liberal with regards to the information that is relied upon than my field – biomedical research. I would not rely on this data until it has been vetted and even then it should be questioned. I’m not sure why serious researchers like the Freakonomics team would post this.

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  4. Samreen M says:

    It’s a dismal note to see racism even at colleges which are considered to educate and brighten the minds of students with love and humanity. The line between whites and blacks has not been wiped out yet!
    In another article “How Black Students Cope with Racism on White Campuses” the same issue was discussed according to that the Black students reported being alienated and miserable. The state of African-American students in predominantly white colleges and campuses needs to be altered now to change the ratio of Black graduates.

    Samreen M

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  5. FreakoNurture says:

    Interesting thoughts on how heavy the pre-entry skill factor was. We do those kids real disservice. I’d suspect a majority of them don’t know how bad is their education

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  6. Nate says:

    Very interesting debate, I wonder what the results would reveal if the american study was performed in a country such as South Africa and what inferences could be made if the two studies were compared.

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    • Estaban says:

      I’m not sure that would be relevant. I suspect that we’ll be talking about the education gap between asians and whites in the next 5 years, as asians continue to pull away from the pack.

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  7. tioedong says:

    Compare poor Korean or Chinese kids in south Philly high school with their black, Hispanic, and white peers to see if the problem is ethnicity or poor schools.
    Another thing to consider is ethnicity: not all blacks are the same. There are Hispanic blacks, west Indian Blacks, Africa immigrant blacks, etc. Any difference in these groups?

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  8. pmack says:

    Missing 1 factor MONEY. Being able to pay for school, books,tutors et al is often a function of how much you start off with.

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