The Corner

Education

The Racial Gap in Student Performance

Leftists look at statistical gaps between racial or ethnic groups and almost always declare that it proves the existence of a problem for government to solve. Their preferred explanation, of course, is discrimination, which can only be rooted out with more “diversity” programs and lawsuits. Here in North Carolina, there is such a gap: the earnings of graduates of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) are significantly lower than the earnings of Predominantly White Institutions (PWI) and that has some people upset.

Are there good reasons to be upset, though? In today’s Martin Center article, Jenna Robinson considers the matter and finds that the difference is mostly explained by the fact that students to graduate from HBCUs are more likely on the whole to have chosen majors in soft academic fields where demand is lower and earnings generally lag behind the average. That isn’t a social problem — it’s a result of individual choice. Robinson points out,

Few students from schools with below-average earnings work in high-skill industries such as natural resources and mining; trade, transportation, and utilities; manufacturing; information; and finance. These industries account for many of the high-paying jobs landed by graduates of UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State. At Elizabeth City State University, by contrast, many graduates are concentrated in public administration, education, and retail.

Further undermining the racial discrimination argument is the fact that the graduates of the HBCUs here that concentrate more on the hard fields where demand is strong do better than the grads of some of the PWIs.

So, should anything be done? Yes, Robinson answers — raise the admission standards at the weak HBCUs, where many of the students who are admitted are very weak academically and would probably be better off if they started learning some trade rather than trying for a BA degree. Also, for students who are admitted, make the academic work more challenging. “Once students are on campus,” she writes,  “faculty and administrators should encourage them to take more challenging and in-demand majors. Course content in all courses and majors should be geared towards increasing problem-solving, critical thinking, and writing skills. A strong general education program, including strict requirements for math and composition, can help students learn the habits of mind that will prepare them for the workplace.”

Those changes won’t satisfy the leftists who want everything to be about white privilege, but they would actually help students, regardless of their race.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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