Our VoiceNews & Politics

College Degrees Mean Less For Black Graduates

Jessica Acee • May 27, 2010

Over the next couple weeks America’s colleges and universities will be graduating hundreds of thousands of students into a job market that is already flooded with job seekers. For black graduates the difficult job search is compounded by racial inequality.

Blacks who have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher have a higher unemployment rate than whites who have only obtained a two-year college degree. And blacks with college degrees earn substantially less than white college graduates.

Surprisingly, the joblessness rate for Black college grads is more significant than for those without higher education, according to a recent New York Times article. “Education, it seems, does not level the playing field - in fact, it appears to have made it more uneven,” the article says.

The college degree that is supposed to open doors of opportunity in the job market is far less powerful than was just a few years ago. Employers expect to hire 22 percent fewer new college graduates than they did a year ago, a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers finds.

But the ugly truth is that the supposed road to success that a college degree opens up is littered with stumbling blocks that education alone cannot overcome. In 2008, the mean annual income of blacks with a four-year degree was more than $13,000 less than that of whites with the same level of education. And blacks who had a master’s earned about $1,500 a year less than whites with a bachelor’s degree.

It’s agonizing for a job seeker to wonder how much of their difficulty in finding a job can be blamed on the economy and how much on the color of their skin. There are many jobs that are never posted, relying instead on word of mouth and referrals to fill the position. Often it is this network of connections in higher salaried positions that leave all students of color locked out.

To make matters worse, about 6 months from now these graduates will be expected to start making payments on their school loans. A report released last week found that black students are more likely to graduate with higher student loan debt than other racial groups.

The report, authored by the College Board’s Education Advocacy and Policy Center, found that 81 percent of black students left college with some student debt compared to 64 percent of white students.

Washington needs to simultaneously address job growth and education reform to even begin to close these gaps. But we all must recognize that changes in education policy and job growth alone will not bring equality and opportunity to all.

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