Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

What Are African Americans Doing in College? A Review of the Undergraduate Degrees Awarded by U.S. Institutions to African Americans: 2005-2009

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

What Are African Americans Doing in College? A Review of the Undergraduate Degrees Awarded by U.S. Institutions to African Americans: 2005-2009

Article excerpt

Introduction

Despite the landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the introduction of a number of federal initiatives aimed at helping ensure a 'level playing field', such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the affirmative action in the early sixties, (Blanchflower, 2009; Harper-Anderson, 2012), the economic fortunes, such as, wages, wealth, and exposure to prosperity of African Americans, still continue to lag behind those of Whites (Lyons & Pettit, 2011). Cognitive differences, educational investments, and differential work experiences have been cited to be among the key contributors to the continuing economic marginalization of African Americans (Anderson, 2009; Bates, 2009). This article joins an increasing number of research studies (e.g., Dotson et al., 2009; Gordon-Larsen, Adair, & Popkin, 2003), focusing on the relationship between the economic fortunes of African Americans and their educational achievement.

Even though the labor market participation for African Americans has historically been low, during periods of economic downturn, like the one experienced during the 2007-2010 period, African Americans are disproportionately affected and experience lower labor market participation and lesser earning rates. For instance, from February 2011 to February 2012, the overall average rate of unemployment in the U.S. was 8.6% while that for African Americans was 14.9%. Even worse, among African Americans with at least an undergraduate degree, the unemployment rate during the same period was a disappointing 19.0% (Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS, 2012). Specifically, African American males have been inexplicably impacted by the economic recession and their active labor market participation continues to decrease even as their prison numbers continue to rise. During the 2010-2011 periods, African American males accounted for only 5% and 6% of the labor market participation rates compared to 81% and 80% for the White males (BLS, 2012). Additionally, the median weekly earnings for African American males was $673 and $668 for the 2010 and 2011 years respectively-values which were 79% ($852) and 75% ($891) of the White males' median weekly earnings. Consequently, the under participation or absence of African American males in the formal labor market inadvertently places a burden on many African American females who are the primary breadwinners in many African American households.

The high unemployment rates for the African Americans, in general, are partly attributed to the decline of the U.S. economy; an occurrence associated with the global economic recession which started in 2007 (Isidore, 2008). However, during the two years (2011-2012), the U.S. economy has shown signs of recovery as manifested by the declining unemployment rates and the rebound of the stock markets (Williams, 2011). It is predicted that the economy will continue this growth and generate millions of jobs by 2018 (BLS, 2012). Jobs that require a bachelor's, a master's, or a doctorate degree are projected to grow at 16.5%, 21.7%, and 19.9% respectively during this period. However, the economic fortunes of African Americans, in general, is not predicted to experience significant positive changes unless the African Americans are equipped with the appropriate level of education, requisite skills, and expertise to take advantage of the opportunities accruing from this growth. Suffice to note, there were only 18% and 4% African Americans, 25 years and older, who had an undergraduate and an advanced degree respectively in 2010; numbers which are comparatively low in relation to the overall African American population (BLS, 2010).

Therefore, using a dataset generated from the National Center for Education Statistics (U.S. Department of Education, 2011), the U.S. Census Bureau (2010), and the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012), the study analyzes the degrees awarded by U.S. educational institutions to African American undergraduate students. …

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