A lot of that data is particularly striking for what it reveals about the deepening disparities for Black Americans. It can be summed up like this: Black Americans are underrepresented at our best colleges and overrepresented at some of our worst.
Amy Morona, who reports for our partner Crain’s Cleveland Business, dug into
these stubborn gaps in three Midwestern cities — Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland.
At the most-selective universities, the percentage of Black students is nowhere close to reflecting the percentage of Black residents in the cities that house them.
- In Cleveland, nearly half of residents are Black but only 6 percent of students at Case Western Reserve University are.
- Roughly a third of Chicago’s residents are Black, but not quite 5 percent of the University of Chicago’s students are.
The records of some public universities — whose missions are more directly focused on serving the regions around them — aren’t much better.
- Nearly 80 percent of Detroit’s residents are Black but just 15 percent of Wayne State’s students are.
- Near Cleveland, 8 percent of Kent State’s students are Black and 15 percent of Cleveland State’s are.
At the same time, Black students are over-represented at for-profit colleges, where rates of debt tend to run high and graduation rates tend to skew low.
- Black students are overrepresented at for-profit colleges by more than 12 percentage points in Ohio and by more than 15 percentage points in Michigan, according to one recent estimate.
- A Bryant and Stratton outpost in Cleveland, a barber college 30 minutes outside of Chicago, and a beauty school in Detroit each reported Black student enrollments of at least 80 percent, Amy reports.
Beyond the question of where these cities’ Black residents go is whether they go or if they finish. In each of the counties that house Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit, the rates of white people with bachelor’s degrees are more than double the number of Black people with those same credentials.
“These stark enrollment and attainment gaps have far-reaching impacts,” Amy writes. “Earning a bachelor’s degree, of course, affects one’s personal earning potential, but research also shows having higher levels of education creates healthier and more engaged citizens. … It’s also vital for the economic health of a region.”
Amy says she keeps thinking about the ramifications, too, for the lived experiences of people like Claire, the University of Chicago student who appears in her lead. Without many Black professors, Claire said that she and her Black peers look elsewhere to form relationships on campus, often with Black custodians or cafeteria workers. “That’s where we find comfort,” she told Amy.
The reporting for this story, Amy says, sets the foundation for other stories she plans to do — including an examination of for-profit colleges’ relationships with Cleveland neighborhoods and an exploration of what colleges in these cities are doing to recruit and retain more Black students. If you have ideas for Amy, reach out to her here.
+ Read The Fresno Bee on a similar dynamic in California: Black Californians are being steered toward for-profit colleges at double the rate of their white counterparts, according to the Campaign for College Opportunity.