The failure of K-12 school systems in preparing black students for college is compounded further by college admissions and support practices that set black students up to fail.

Colleges are admitting many black students who are unprepared for rigorous college environments. They’re often accepted with lower SAT and ACT scores, fewer AP course credits and lower (or inflated) high school GPAs than their counterparts at the same school.

At the same time, colleges are failing to provide black students with the individualized support they need to overcome the deficiencies of their K-12 educations to give them their best chance of success.

This failure is reflected in the statistics for six-year graduation rates.

Just 38% of blacks earn their four-year college degrees after six years. By comparison, 62% of whites, 63.2% of Asians and 45.8% of Hispanics receive their degrees within six years.[i]

Blacks also have a more difficult time affording college – another reason many drop out. A 2014 Gallup survey found that 50% of black graduates had student debt in excess of $25,000 (compared with 34% of whites).

Many black students who drop out of college end up deep in debt. Dropping out not only diminishes their future employment potential but can also have life-long impact on their sense of self-worth.

Blacks deserve a better deal in higher education. They deserve policies that set them up for success.

Project 21 recommends…

  • Incentivizing schools to provide black students the support they need by requiring schools to meet minimum graduation rate standards to qualify for federal financial aid programs. A minimum six-year graduation rate should initially be set at 60% for the general student population, and no less than 15 percentage points lower for minority students. The graduation rate gap between minority students and the rest of the student population should gradually be phased out.
  • Preventing federal student financial aid programs from fueling tuition inflation. By one estimate, colleges increase the “sticker price” of tuition by 65 cents for every additional dollar in subsidized financial loans and 55 cents for every additional dollar in Pell grants.[ii] The inflationary effects of federal student financial aid programs can be limited by limiting the overall amount of student financial aid – both grants and loans – students are allowed to receive and limiting the price colleges may charge for tuition to be eligible for federal financial aid programs. According to the College Board, the average tuition and fees per year at a four-year public university for in-state students was $9,970 and $25,620 for out-of-state students in 2017. The average cost of room and board was $10,800 for public schools and $12,210 for private schools.[iii] Capping federal assistance at $22,000 per year per student and limiting student financial aid eligibility to institutions with published tuition and fees of $25,000 or less would be reasonable. These institutions would also be required to meet minimum graduation rates in order to qualify.
  • Providing additional funding to improve infrastructure, renovate and update Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) by reprogramming existing funding for colleges – provided the HBCUs commit to meeting the same minimum graduation standards required of all colleges receiving federal financial aid.
  • Ending policies that encourage segregation on college and university campuses. In keeping with the color-blind principles articulated by Martin Luther King, Jr., schools receiving federal funding should no longer operate separate housing, recreation facilities or student centers on the basis of race.

[i] Emily Tate, “Graduation Rates and Races,” Inside Higher Ed, April 26, 2017, available at

[ii] Andrew Kelly, “Does Federal Student Aid Cause Tuition Increases? It Certainly Enables Them,” Forbes, October 8, 2015, available at

[iii] “What’s the Price Tag for a College Education,” COLLEGEdata, 1st Financial Bank USA, North Sioux City, Iowa, available at