Black, Latino/a Students More Likely to Major in Subjects With Low ROI

As a result, these students are less likely to work in stable, growing jobs with high salaries and upward mobility after graduating.

March 9, 2022 · Updated on March 9, 2022

Edited by Brenna Swanston
Black, Latino/a Students More Likely to Major in Subjects With Low ROI
Opinion & Analysis
Photo by Klaus Vedfelt / DigitalVision / Getty Images

  • Black and Latino/a students are less likely than their white and Asian peers to choose majors with high returns on investment.
  • These learners are also less likely to hold internships, which significantly improve employment prospects after graduation.
  • As a result, these students lose out on stable, growing jobs with high salaries and opportunities for upward mobility.

Black and Latino/a students disproportionately enroll in majors that yield lower earnings, according to a recent report by Burning Glass Institute.

As a result, these students experience higher rates of underemployment than their white and Asian peers. According to Burning Glass Institute, someone is underemployed when they are working in a job that does not require a bachelor's degree even though they have one.

The Burning Glass Institute report referenced in this story appears to use the terms "Hispanic" and "Latino" interchangeably. BestColleges recognizes that while these groups have overlap, they are not the same. For the sake of consistency, this story uses "Latino/a" for most references to the report, except when statistics specifically refer to Hispanic individuals.

Black and Latino/a students have long faced inequities in educational outcomes. Historically, these learners have had less access to educational opportunities and resources. They are also underrepresented in high-paying jobs after graduating and less likely to hold upper-level positions as their careers advance.

Many of the inequities found in education and the workforce are rooted in systemic racism. Still, if more students of color major in subjects with high returns on investment (ROI), this may help narrow the educational outcomes gap.

Why Choosing the Right Major Matters

Certain college majors tend to result in higher earnings and better employment options than others, but Black and Latino/a students enroll in these majors less often than white and Asian students do, according to Burning Glass Institute's report.

Data shows that Black and Hispanic students are more likely to be underemployed regardless of their major. That said, students from these groups are also more likely to choose majors that result in higher underemployment rates.

Percent of Students in Underemployed Majors by Race/Ethnicity

Low underemployment major Average underemployment major High underemployment major
Asian 44% 46% 9%
White 31% 50% 19%
Black 28% 53% 18%
Latino/a 28% 52% 20%

*Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

By focusing attention on majors with higher ROI, learners can increase their likelihood of adequate employment after graduation.

Black and Latino/a Students Are Less Likely to Be Employed in "Good" Jobs

Black and Hispanic students are significantly more likely than their white and Asian peers to be employed in jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree — even in typically high-earning fields like engineering and computer science.

Percent of Underemployed Workers in Engineering by Race/Ethnicity

Black 36%
Hispanic 26%
White 16%
Two races 15%
Asian/Pacific Islander 10%

Percent of Underemployed Workers in Computer and Information Technology Sciences by Race/Ethnicity

Black 28%
Hispanic 23%
White 12%
Asian/Pacific Islander 9%

Still, employment opportunities are better and earnings are higher for students of color in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Researchers define "good" jobs as those with growing employment prospects, relatively high salaries, and upward career mobility. Black, Latino/a, and Native American graduates — along with other students of color — are much less likely to be employed in good jobs than their white and Asian/Pacific Islander peers.

Share of Workers with Good Jobs by Race/Ethnicity, 2018

Asian/Pacific Islander 42%
White 36%
Mixed/Other 30%
Black 23%
Native American 23%
Latino/a 19%
People of color 24%

By not securing good jobs after graduation, these individuals face limited opportunities for career growth and advancement.

Students of Color With Internships Fare Better Than Those Without

Internships are a great way for students to gain valuable job experience and increase their likelihood of being hired in good jobs. According to Burning Glass Institute, a student who lands an internship during college is 9% more likely to hold a bachelor’s-required job after graduating.

According to research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, Hispanic students are more likely not to hold an internship during their college years than they are to participate in a paid or unpaid internship. Black students are also underrepresented in internships, and those who do hold internships tend to work in unpaid ones.

Internships prove particularly important for Black and Hispanic students in computer science and IT majors, according to Burning Glass Institute's report. Black students who complete internships while majoring in computer science or IT are 30% more likely to be employed in a bachelor’s-required job after graduating. Hispanic students are 26% more likely.

How Schools Can Help Bridge the Gap

It will take time to close the education outcomes gap for Black and Latino/a students. One thing schools can do to help is promote majors and career paths to learners who have been historically underrepresented in those fields. By doing this, these institutions can help create more equitable campuses and workplaces.

Assisting Black and Latino/a learners in securing internships that are relevant to their field will also help create more equitable outcomes.