This is far from the reality, especially for low-income students and minorities. While it is true that graduating from high school and being admitted to college are important accomplishments, they do not in themselves guarantee true equality.
College is not for everyone. But there is no denying the impact a college degree has on income and therefore economic stability and quality of life.
Pop Quiz, Outcomes by Education
According the US Department of Commerce, the median annual (year-round) income for male high school graduates 25 and older is roughly $37,000 a year; female high school graduates only make about $26,000 a year.
But male college graduates with four year degrees make about $60,000 annually, and females bring in over $45,000. This is about $20,000 more than people with only high school degrees make– and doesn’t even factor in advanced degrees, which nearly always require undergraduate degrees.
Advanced degrees frequently yield a median income of six figures or more. The New York Times notes that even in last year’s recession, our nation saw a record differential between a college graduate’s yearly salary and a non-college graduate. People with college degrees earned 54% more last year.
Clearly, there are tremendous benefits to completing a college degree. Without one, a person’s opportunities are limited in today’s economy. The problem is, just getting to college in no way guarantees a degree, especially in this country.
Among wealthy nations, the United States is second worst when it comes to graduating college students. Less than 60% of our college freshman graduate within six years. And for every University of Michigan, which graduates almost 80% of its students, there is a University of Memphis, which graduates less than 35% within six years.
The catch is that schools with high graduation rates tend to be extremely selective. Harvard may boast a 97% graduation rate, but that’s not surprising since it handpicks the best of the best.
Harvard lies at one extreme. Most students aren’t going to Harvard.
The reality is pretty different for low-income and minority students. Here’s the real truth: most of our minority and low-income students aren’t going to college, and those who do make it aren’t likely to graduate.
Less than 43% of African-American freshman graduate nationwide. Even at selective and widely recognized state universities like Michigan and Berkeley, black students graduate much less frequently than their white peers. At UC Berkeley, only 70% of black students graduate within six years, compared to 86% of white students. Even more shockingly, just 35% of these black students graduate within four years, compared to over 60% for white students.
The University of Michigan, which has the largest African-American student body at about 1900 students, will only graduate about 1300 of these students, 21 percentage points lower than the rate of white students.
These are two of the premier public universities in the country. Many notable universities like Kentucky and Oklahoma graduate fewer than 50% of their black students.
What about historically black colleges, then –surely they have high graduation rates, right? Sadly, wrong, often frighteningly so. Spellman leads the way at 77%. Morehouse and Howard come in under 60%, and The University of DC graduates only 8%.
Americans looking to better their families’ economic prospects have long regarded college graduation as the gateway to prosperity and security. And as it turns out, they are right to do so.
But if we are going to break the cycle of generational poverty that plagues our inner cities, we need to start graduating our students from college, especially our minorities.
It’s time we made sure our high schools are preparing students not simply to attend college but to graduate, too.
Photo credit: m00by