Community College Enrollment Declines Worsen for Black Students

A new Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies report reveals Black student enrollment at community colleges dropped by 18% over the last two years.
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  • Community college enrollment dropped by 24% for Black men during the pandemic.
  • More than a third of Black students begin their community college journey living in poverty.
  • After earning an associate degree, 29% of Black community college students still earn poverty wages.

Black students make up a disproportionate number of community college students, but both their enrollment and outcome measures continue to fall far behind their non-Black peers.

A new report from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies reveals that during the COVID-19 pandemic, enrollment for Black students at community colleges fell by 18%. The largest of these enrollment declines was seen for Black men.

Between 2019 and 2021, enrollment for Black men dropped by 24%, compared to 15% for Black women. Enrollment declines for Black men were nearly double the rate of decline for Latina women, who had the smallest drop in enrollment figures during the period.

Though Black student enrollment at both four-year institutions and community colleges has been on the decline since 2010, these recent rapid declines were accelerated by the pandemic.

But it's not just enrollment rates that have taken a hit during the last few years. Black community college students are increasingly graduating at lower rates and earning less than students of other racial/ethnic backgrounds.

On average, Black students already begin their community college journey at a disadvantage from their white peers.

In 2016, the median household income for Black community college students was $24,044, compared to $39,385 for white students. A larger percentage of Black students are also living in poverty than both white and Latino/a students.

When it comes to graduation, Black community college students still face the lowest graduation rates despite the number of Black degree and credential holders increasing over time.

During the 2019-2020 academic year, less than a third of Black community college students graduated within three years of enrolling.

Black community college students were also more likely to earn a certificate rather than an associate degree during the same period. In prior years, Black students were least likely to transfer to a four-year institution after completing their associate degree.

Even after earning their associate degree, Black community college students are still earning less than their white counterparts with the same level of educational attainment. In 2021, the median household income for Black associate degree holders was just $48,724, compared to $73,948 for white students.

Further, as of 2021, 29% of Black associate degree holders earned poverty wages, below $30,000 a year.

Black community college students' declining enrollment figures and inequitable outcomes after graduating should be a cause for concern among both educators and employers.

To curb these falling rates, the Joint Center suggests that schools make an effort to improve access to basic needs that can support Black students along their educational journey as many Black students, particularly Black males, face basic needs insecurity.

The Joint Center also recommends that schools work to strengthen transfer pathways and lessen the barriers preventing Black students from transfer success.