Factors That Jeopardize Postsecondary Enrollment and Success for Black Students in Florida

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This brief reports new findings from a survey fielded by The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice in July 2021. These findings identify factors that influence postsecondary enrollment and success among Black students in Florida. They also reveal the extent to which the pandemic has exacerbated long-standing impediments to postsecondary access and attainment. At the same time, within the context of ongoing efforts to close opportunity gaps, the findings in this brief point toward actions that the education field and community leaders can take to expand access to opportunity, mitigate barriers that impede Black students, in particular, and make Florida’s education systems more equitable.

Why Postsecondary Attainment for Black Floridians Matters

Postsecondary enrollment and attainment expand the range of opportunities available to individuals in the workforce—especially as more and more jobs require some form of postsecondary training—and can lead to higher earnings and greater economic stability and mobility. Beyond the advantages that postsecondary attainment can provide individuals and families, overall attainment rate increases also have a significant positive impact on a state’s economy.

In Florida, there are stark racial disparities when it comes to postsecondary enrollment and success. Black Floridians are much less likely than individuals from other racial and ethnic groups to have completed a postsecondary education. For example, only 31 percent of Black Floridians, ages 25 to 64, hold an associate or bachelor's degree. This rate is 11 percentage points lower than the overall degree attainment rate in Florida and 15 percentage points lower than the rate for White Floridians.

If we aspire to have an equitable education system in Florida, and to ensure that Black students in the state can access the learning opportunities that set them up for lifelong success, then closing gaps in postsecondary participation and attainment must be treated as a greater priority than it has been to date.

To do this, it is vital that schools and districts, postsecondary institutions, state agencies, policymakers, and advocates and philanthropic organizations identify, understand, and mitigate the specific barriers for Black students—many of which are non-academic—that inhibit postsecondary participation and success among students who nonetheless aspire to a postsecondary education.

Moreover, it is essential that these entities recognize that Black students in Florida are not a monolith. The diversity of their ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and sexualities—and the intersectionality of these identities— influence the educational experiences and outcomes of Black students in ways that need to be understood and supported.