Study: Black, Hispanic Students More Likely to Consider Leaving College Than White Peers

Black and Hispanic students were more likely than white students to consider leaving their programs. Among all groups, the top reasons leading them to consider leaving college were emotional stress, mental health, and costs, according to a new study.
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Evan Castillo is a reporter on BestColleges News and wrote for the Daily Tar Heel during his time at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He's covered topics ranging from climate change to general higher education news, and he is passiona...
Published on March 4, 2024
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  • Within the last six months, 42% of Hispanic and 40% of Black postsecondary students considered stopping their coursework, according to a study.
  • Black and Hispanic respondents have considered leaving their programs more than white students every year since 2020.
  • Financial aid/scholarships were most important for unenrolled adults considering postsecondary programs.

Black and Hispanic students are more likely to consider leaving college, citing emotional stress, mental health, and costs as the top reasons, a new study finds.

The 2024 Lumina-Gallup State of Higher Education Study, released Feb. 28, found that Black and Hispanic students are at a greater risk of leaving their college programs than white students. Despite this trend holding steady since 2020, the rate lowered from an all-time high in 2022.

"There were also slight enrollment improvements among Black and Hispanic undergraduates, who have historically been underrepresented in higher education," according to the findings.

"Understanding these underrepresented groups and their experiences with, and attitudes toward, higher education is important for policymakers and leaders committed to improving enrollments and the impact of higher education for more Americans."

In fall 2023, on behalf of Lumina Foundation, Gallup surveyed:

  • 6,015 enrolled students
  • 5,012 U.S. adults who enrolled in an education program after high school but didn't complete their degree program
  • 3,005 adults who had never enrolled in higher education

In that survey, 42% of Hispanic students and 40% of Black students enrolled in a bachelor's, associate, certificate, or certification program considered stopping their coursework. Only 31% of white students considered stopping.

Overall, all students who considered leaving their courses said they did so because of emotional stress first, mental health second, and cost third. Half of Black and Hispanic students and over half of white students who were surveyed cited emotional stress as the main reason they considered stopping classes.

According to a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, students of color were less likely to seek mental health treatment. For African Americans alone, 63% saw mental health conditions like depression as a sign of a lack of strength, according to a study by the National Mental Health Association.

"Although the topic of mental health has become somewhat more common to discuss, it still remains a taboo or silent topic in many households," Lynell Williams, a nationally certified counselor, previously told BestColleges.

"In the Black and African American community, struggling with emotions and mental health symptoms has been perceived as a weakness, leading to feelings of shame."

Williams also said the lack of Black and African American mental health experts contributes to these views.

"Discussing symptoms and stressors is a very vulnerable experience. Given the history of mistrust toward the medical profession, the risk of being misunderstood or misdiagnosed by a culturally unaware mental health professional may not be worth it for some members of the Black or African American community."

In the Lumina-Gallup study, cost was cited by respondents as the No. 3 reason to stop classes overall. But keeping costs low was most important for Black and Hispanic unenrolled adults.

For 59% of Black and 59% of Hispanic unenrolled adults, financial aid and scholarships would be very important to getting them to enroll in a postsecondary program in the next year. Degree/credential value ranked highest for white unenrolled adults.

According to a 2023 study by Gallup with the Walton Family Foundation, more than 1 in 3 Black Generation Z students believe they will be able to afford college if they want to attend. However, significantly more Hispanic and white students believed they'd be able to afford it.

Black adults are most likely to have student debt, struggle with repayment, and owe more than they borrowed a year after graduating. In 2018, 76% of Black bachelor's degree-completers had federal loans and borrowed over $6,000 more on average than all bachelor's degree-completers, according to a BestColleges report.

The 2024 Lumina-Gallup study also found that bachelor's degrees are among the least desirable programs for Black and Hispanic unenrolled adults. Associate degrees and certificates ranked first and second for programs they considered pursuing within the past two years.

If Black unenrolled adults decide to pursue bachelor's degrees, they may find more success at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) than at other institutions.

The Annenberg Institute at Brown University found that Black students who initially enroll in HBCUs are 40% more likely to earn bachelor's degrees than those who do not. HBCU students are more likely to choose and complete higher-earning majors and 100% more likely to earn a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degree than non-HBCU students.