The path to higher education is riddled with obstacles, and for Black and brown students in the United States, these challenges are uniquely formidable. These challenges, rooted in historical disparities and systemic inequalities, can significantly impact their educational experiences and outcomes. Understanding and addressing these hurdles are essential to fostering an inclusive and equitable higher education system.

Black and brown students, encompassing individuals of African, African American, Hispanic, Latinx, Native American, and other racially diverse backgrounds, face a range of obstacles that hinder their success in college. These challenges can be socio-economic, institutional, or cultural. Factors such as limited access to quality pre-college education, financial constraints, lack of representation in academic curricula, and discrimination on campus are just a few of the difficulties they encounter.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, Black students have a graduation rate of 50.2%, the lowest among all racial and ethnic groups. Yet, these disparities in achievement are not just numbers; they represent the intricate complexities of their experiences inside and outside the classroom.

A recent comprehensive study involving 6,008 current students, including 1,106 Black students pursuing various degrees, shed light on these challenges. A striking 36% of Black students balance full-time jobs and caregiving, nearly double the rate of their peers from different racial backgrounds. Additionally, campus diversity significantly affects the safety and respect felt by Black students. In less diverse environments, 31% reported discrimination, and 28% felt physically unsafe. These numbers dropped significantly, reaching 17% in both categories within the most diverse programs.

Yet, the hurdles extend beyond classrooms. Financial burdens, combined with explicit and implicit racial discrimination, often deter these students from even enrolling. A recent Gallup and Lumina Foundation study emphasized these issues, highlighting the steep costs and racial biases faced by Black students in completing post-secondary programs.

Perceptions of discrimination vary depending on the credentials pursued. While 32% of short-term credential students occasionally felt discriminated against, this number decreased to 16% for Black students in associate degree programs and 14% for those pursuing bachelor’s degrees.

Institutional disparities further shape experiences. Alarmingly, 34% of Black students in private for-profit schools faced frequent or occasional discrimination, compared to 23% in private, not-for-profit institutions and 17% in public institutions. This disparity is troubling, especially given the higher Black student representation in private for-profit institutions.

Flexibility emerged as a crucial factor for Black bachelor’s students. An overwhelming 59% stressed the need for more flexible schedules, and 47% highlighted the importance of flexible course delivery, including remote learning options.

To help Black students, institutions must integrate diverse course options and provide accessible counseling services. Regulatory oversight is essential to prevent for-profit colleges from exploiting minority groups. Colleges must also analyze enrollment data, develop diverse course options, and prioritize accessible counseling services, focusing on stress management and scheduling. Diverse mentorship opportunities are vital. Black students supported by mentors tend to experience less discrimination and feel a stronger sense of belonging.

The challenges faced by Black and brown students in college are significant but not insurmountable. By understanding these unique struggles and implementing targeted support systems, educational institutions can foster a more inclusive and equitable academic landscape.