Community colleges play an integral role during economic downturns and are potentially vital in the country’s current economic recovery from COVID-19. Given Black adults are facing high unemployment rates through the continued pandemic, targeted support to strengthen community colleges across the nation would greatly benefit Black communities, says this report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

While Black students disproportionately attend community colleges, their enrollment has significantly dropped, the report shows. Moreover, gaps in Black students’ academic outcomes have more than doubled over time compared to their white peers. Among the report’s key findings:

  • Despite the historic lure to community colleges during previous recessions, Black student enrollment has steadily declined over time and has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. From Fall 2019 to Fall 2021, enrollment fell 18 percent for all Black students and 23.5 percent and 15 percent for Black men and Black women, respectively.
  • Black community college students experience the lowest graduation rates when compared to their peers of other races and ethnicities. The gap between Black and white graduation rates more than doubled from four percentage points in 2007 to 11 percentage points in 2020, the latest year data is available.
  • Community colleges award Black students certificates at higher rates than other groups. In the 2019-2020 year, fewer than half (47 percent) of the awards given to Black community college completers were associate degrees, while the opposite is true for all other racial groups.
  • The typical Black community college graduate earns $20,000 less per year than their classmates. White households with workers who hold a high school diploma earn $2,000 more than Black community college graduates.