Race in America
College Major Choices Increase Racial Wage Gap

Many racial justice initiatives focus on giving more minority students the opportunity to go to college. This is a worthy goal, but as a new Wall Street Journal report suggests, it’s not sufficient. Black students tend to major in lower-paying fields, meaning that the wage gap would persist even if whites and blacks attended college at the same rate:

Although African-Americans are more likely to go to college than in the past, they are overrepresented in majors that lead to lower-paying careers, according to a new report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce that examined their share of bachelor’s degrees in 137 detailed majors.

African-Americans make up 12% of the U.S. population, but represent 8% or less in some of the highest-paying majors, such as engineering, pharmacy and computer science. By contrast, they make up 17% or more in the lowest-earning majors, including human services and community organization and social work.

One thing this suggests is that colleges aren’t doing a good enough job of helping young African Americans think through their education plans. Several initiatives that encourage African American students to go into computer science—like YesWeCode—already exist. But starting in high school, the educational establishment should double down on this kind of effort. A concerted effort by teachers, mentors, and community leaders to ensure that college-bound African American students have the skills and confidence to go into fields like mechanical engineering, petroleum geology, and pre-med could make a real dent in the wage gap.

The author of the Georgetown report gets it right, as quoted in the article, when he says, “it’s about the right church, wrong pew.” Years of credential inflation mean that in the 21st century, it’s no longer enough to go to college: You need to be smart about what you study once you get there.

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