New ACT Report Shows Many African American Students Inadequately Prepared for Postsecondary Education

Posted March 27, 2014

IOWA CITY, Iowa—Nearly all African American students report that they aspire to earn a postsecondary degree, but most are inadequately prepared to succeed in their first-year courses in college, degree or certificate programs, according to a report released today by ACT.

The report, The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013: African American Students, shows that only 10 percent of African American 2013 high school graduates met at least three of four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, compared to 39 percent for all ACT-tested graduates.

The research-based ACT College Readiness Benchmarks specify the minimum scores students must earn on each of ACT’s four subject tests (English, mathematics, reading, and science) to have about a 75 percent chance of earning a grade of C or higher in a typical credit-bearing first-year college course in the corresponding subject area. ACT research suggests that students who meet the benchmarks are more likely than those who do not to persist in college and earn a degree.

In terms of taking rigorous coursework, 69 percent of African American students completed ACT’s recommended core curriculum, compared to 74 percent for all students. ACT’s recommended core curriculum is four years of English and three years each of mathematics, science and social studies.

“ACT’s report unequivocally documents the failure of our schools to prepare all African American students for college and career,” said Dr. Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund. “This report should serve to focus our collective attention on the work we must do as a nation to ensure that all Americans are prepared to meet the basic requirements for postsecondary education; it’s a call to action we dare not ignore.”

The report also shows that after high school, 63 percent of African American students who graduated in 2011 immediately enrolled in some form of postsecondary education. However, only 62 percent of that enrolled group persisted into a second year, compared to 73 percent for all ACT-tested 2011 graduates. Encouragingly, the postsecondary persistence rate increased to 71 percent among African American students who met at least two of the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks—identical to the rate achieved by all 2011 ACT-tested graduates who met at least two of the readiness benchmarks. This suggests that college readiness can help reduce racial/ethnic gaps in college persistence rates.

“As with many of our findings regarding underrepresented student groups, there are similar trends,” said Scott Montgomery, ACT vice president of policy, advocacy, and government relations. “These findings are significant not only because they underscore the urgent need for improvement, but also because they point to areas of potential improvement that we can all build on.”

The ACT report uses data from the approximately 1.8 million 2013 high school graduates who took the ACT college readiness assessment. During ACT registration, students are asked to provide information about race/ethnicity, high school course-taking, and postsecondary aspirations.

The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013 African American Students report can be viewed and downloaded for free on the ACT website at www.act.org/newsroom/data/2013/states/africanamerican.html