In Biggest Cities, Racial Education Gaps Loom Large

Minorities trail whites in college completion, but there has been more progress in closing gaps at the high school level.

Graduates wait for the start of the commencement ceremony on the campus of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.
National Journal
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Ronald Brownstein
May 22, 2015, 8:16 a.m.

Per­sist­ent achieve­ment gaps con­tin­ue to be­dev­il policy makers and un­der­line de­bates over in­equal­ity in the United States. But even the fig­ures on the ra­cial gaps in edu­ca­tion­al at­tain­ment across the 150 largest met­ro­pol­it­an areas can some­what un­der­state the dis­par­ity be­cause many of the com­munit­ies where the highest per­cent­ages of Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans and His­pan­ics hold col­lege de­grees are places with re­l­at­ively few of those adults. To ad­just for that, Next Amer­ica also ana­lyzed both high school and col­lege edu­ca­tion­al at­tain­ment levels in com­munit­ies with the largest pop­u­la­tions of whites, Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans and His­pan­ics.

As the chart be­low shows, at least 200,000 whites live in 138 of the 150 largest met­ro­pol­it­an areas. In 129 of those 138 com­munit­ies, at least 90 per­cent of whites hold a high school dip­loma; in the oth­er nine, at least 80 per­cent of whites hold such a dip­loma.

At least 200,000 Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans live in 36 of these met­ro­pol­it­an areas. In all 36 of those com­munit­ies, at least 80 per­cent of adult Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans also hold a high school dip­loma (though only in sev­en of them do black adults reach the 90 per­cent level more com­mon among whites).

Lati­nos equal 200,000 or more of the pop­u­la­tion in a com­par­able 37 large met­ro­pol­it­an areas. In just two of those 37 (both in Flor­ida—Or­lando and Miami) does at least 80 per­cent of the en­tire Latino pop­u­la­tion hold a high school dip­loma; in 28 of the 37, few­er than 70 per­cent of all Lati­nos have com­pleted high school. But the pic­ture is bet­ter among the nat­ive-born: In 27 of the 37 cit­ies—in­clud­ing most of the big Sun Belt met­ro­pol­ises such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Las Ve­gas—at least 80 per­cent of them hold high school dip­lo­mas. In the re­main­ing ten, only between 70 and 80 per­cent of adult nat­ive-born Lati­nos hold high school dip­lo­mas; with the prom­in­ent ex­cep­tion of Hou­s­ton (which fin­ishes just be­low 80 per­cent), these lag­ging cit­ies in­clude mostly com­munit­ies in Cali­for­nia’s Cent­ral Val­ley (such as Mod­esto and Fresno) and the Rio Grande Val­ley in Texas (such as Browns­ville).

The gaps are great­er in col­lege at­tain­ment across these areas of pop­u­la­tion con­cen­tra­tion. In ten of these cit­ies—in­clud­ing Wash­ing­ton; Durham, North Car­o­lina; San Fran­cisco; San Jose, Cali­for­nia; Ann Ar­bor, Michigan; Aus­tin, Texas; New York; and Bo­ston—at least half of work­ing-age whites hold a col­lege de­gree. Between 40 and 50 per­cent of whites are col­lege-edu­cated in 26 more cit­ies, and between 30 and 40 per­cent in 67 oth­ers. Taken to­geth­er, that means at least 30 per­cent of whites hold col­lege de­grees in 103 met­ro­pol­it­an areas. By con­trast, in the cit­ies with 200,000 Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans, only in the Wash­ing­ton area do as many as 30 per­cent of them hold a col­lege de­gree; in the cit­ies with large His­pan­ic pop­u­la­tions, even the nat­ive-born reach that level in only three: Miami, At­lanta, and Wash­ing­ton.

From the oth­er end, few­er than 30 per­cent of whites hold col­lege de­grees in about one-quarter of the cit­ies where at least 200,000 of them live (35 of 138). But few­er than 30 per­cent of blacks hold col­lege de­grees in over 97 per­cent of the cit­ies where they are most nu­mer­ous (35/36). Like­wise, few­er than 30 per­cent of adult nat­ive-born His­pan­ics hold col­lege de­grees in 92 per­cent of the cit­ies where they are most plen­ti­ful (34/37).

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