Black History Month: A Look at Graduate School Enrollment for Black Americans

RJ Nichol
Feb 12, 2021

Black students face unique challenges when pursuing a post-graduate degree in America.

For this year’s Black History Month, we’re dedicating a weekly blog series to examining the specific challenges Black Americans experience in higher education, and sharing some of the actionable steps Liaison is taking in pursuit of advancing equity. This week’s discussion examines racial disparities in graduate education as well as Liaison’s participation in initiatives designed to foster inclusivity, equity and diversity in college admissions.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, Black graduate student enrollment increased by 8.9% in Fall 2020. Unfortunately, Black undergraduate enrollment declined by 7.5% during the same period — which may portend future challenges for institutions hoping to enroll more Black grad students if the trend continues.

On top of that, a report conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in July 2020 found that students from majority Black ZIP codes were more likely than others to have outstanding student loans at age 30. That, in turn, may adversely affect the ability of Black bachelor’s degree holders to afford to continue their education at the graduate level.

More recently, The Washington Post reported that for at least the past decade, the U.S. Education Department “has disproportionately selected students from majority-Black and Latino neighborhoods to provide further proof that the information on their financial aid application is accurate.” For applicants who may already be struggling to manage work, family and school obligations during the pandemic, that added burden may be a powerful disincentive to completing the application process.

Despite constituting 13.4% of the population, it’s noteworthy that Black students earned just 10.4% of master’s degrees and 7% of all doctoral and professional degrees between 2015 and 2017. During the same period, according to the American Council on Education, Black students accounted for only:

  • 3% of dental school students
  • 3% of medical school students
  • 1% of law school students

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Boards

At Liaison, we believe strongly in a community approach to problem-solving. We have been fortunate to learn from affinity groups serving underrepresented students like the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the National GEM Consortium. That’s why this year we launched the EngineeringCAS Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Advisory Board. The board’s mission is to achieve greater representation of all underrepresented students in the graduate engineering population and to offer suggestions for implementing and evaluating effective strategies for doing so. Individuals from NSBE and GEM number among our founding members, along with representatives from SHPE, SWE, AISES, ASEE and Out to Innovate. We will present ideas and findings from this board throughout the year at conferences like the ASEE Annual Conference. You can learn more about the DEI Advisory Board in this article. We’re currently working to establish DEI advisory boards outside of the engineering field to help ensure that our products, actions and partnerships live up to our company’s mission and values.

Our Black History Month series continues next week, when we’ll write about the importance of increasing Black representation in the medical fields and how that begins with health sciences education.

RJ Nichol

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Over the last three decades, Liaison has helped over 40,000 programs on more than 1,200 campuses more effectively manage admissions through its Centralized Application Service (CAS™) technology and complementary application processing and support services. The higher education technology leader supports its partner institutions’ total enrollment goals by pairing CAS with its Enrollment Marketing (EM) platform as well as the recently acquired TargetX (CRM) and advanced analytics software Othot.