How BIPOC School Experiences Are Different

Featuring expert advice from:

Paul Mitchell

Paul Mitchell, Assistant Professor in the Reynolds School of Journalism and Coordinator of Recruitment and Retention at the University of Nevada, Reno

Paula Umana

Paula Umaña, Director of Institutional Engagement at the Hope Center

No experiences are identical, but reports show educational discrepancies for BIPOC and white student populations when compared as a whole. Some studies also show each individual group experiences life after high school differently.

Students' Peers and Teachers May Not Look Like Them

Most college students and teachers are white. As BIPOC learners move through school, they'll likely see more non-white classmates leaving without graduating. In advanced degree (master's and doctoral) programs, the percentage of BIPOC students in classes decreases even more.

As a whole, college enrollments and graduation rates in the U.S. don't reflect population diversity. Over 90% of four-year schools' enrollment and graduation rates don't match their states' demographics. Disparities may be smaller for freshmen classes. But by graduation (four to six years later), white students are likelier to wear those caps and gowns.

Additionally, most postsecondary instructors are white. Even the best-intentioned white educators haven't walked a mile in non-white students' shoes. Communication barriers between white educators and BIPOC students may exist, even if both speak English as a primary language. Words, phrases, and politeness can differ by culture.

For instance, in your culture, it may be impolite to ask a teacher anything other than academic questions—and it's definitely impolite to ask for "favors." But some teachers may expect you to ask for support, like discussing accommodations for their classrooms (laptop use, microphones to connect to hearing aids, etc.).

Not being on the same page about polite communication can cause real harm to BIPOC students’ educational outcomes.

BIPOC Students May Have a Harder Time Affording School

There's no avoiding the issue. As of 2021, Black, Hispanic/Latino, Indigenous, and multiracial people are likelier to be poor than white or Asian people. Asian people are more likely to be impoverished than white people but proportionally less than others in the BIPOC community.

Additionally, white students often have easier access to transportation, food, housing, and other necessities. Meanwhile, BIPOC students are more likely to need to work to provide for family needs, as their parents are more likely to be impoverished.

This is one of the biggest things people don't consider when looking at college. They think about tuition costs but don't think about the other expenses. This is disproportionate between races and can affect success.

–Paula Umana

BIPOC Adults Are More Likely to Be Single Parents

People of color are more likely to be single parents than white people. This can affect whether they feel they can attend school and how their school experiences go. People in poverty are less likely to be able to afford postsecondary education.

While in raw numbers, more white kids are being raised in single-parent households, BIPOC children are disproportionately raised in single-parent households.

Further, the poverty rate for single moms is higher among all non-white races except Asian. Native American single mothers are the most likely to live in poverty, at 43%. Black moms are second, at 35%, Latina at 34%, white at 26%, and Asian at 22%. Single-father households are less common, but 746,000 families were impoverished in 2019. That's about 12% of all single-father households.

Additionally, while the teen pregnancy rate is falling, BIPOC (except Asian) teens are likelier to have kids than white teens. This can set them on an even rougher track, as they could be dismissed by family or friends, drop out of high school, or feel greater economic stress.

Explore more of the BIPOC Student Success Guide

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