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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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  • Frank Messmann

    Many majors require a high IQ . Black IQ averages 85 which means because of the bell curve that there will be few blacks with the requisite IQ.

    • ronetc

      You are quite correct that the average IQ for American blacks is 85 vs 100 for whites, difficult as it is for most polite conversation. However, that does not actually mean that “few blacks” have the requisite IQ . . . just that on average fewer blacks than whites out of a standard pool will be qualified. Many blacks are very smart, many whites dumb as a sack of rocks. The larger problem is that all too many blacks are in large city school districts, which almost by definition means a failing school system run by corrupt and incompetent teacher union hacks overseen by corrupt liberal city government. IQ is nearly irrelevant in that failed environment.

    • Tom

      Yeah…talk to me when that isn’t skewed by terrible training. Bear in mind that IQ has increased over time for everyone.

      • GS

        Tom, IQ pretty much crystallizes by the age 6, before there has been any training to speak about. More, it is believed that it is some 80% heritable, so the only thing left to do is to work on the margins, with the remaining 20%.

  • Fat_Man

    The people who have to get them to study, and do their homework, and take difficult courses are their parents, and not when they are teenagers, but when they are elementary school students.

    • Andrew Allison

      The teachers who routinely promote unqualified kids to a higher grade, and eventually graduate uneducated students share some of the responsibility. I’m afraid that public education is so irretrievably broken that even responsible parents can’t get their kids an education. Meanwhile, it seems to me that cutting off student loans to colleges that don’t graduate, say, two-thirds of the students they accept in four years and 85% in six, might not be a bad idea.

      • M Snow

        Please don’t blame the teachers. The social promotion policy comes from the top and every teacher I know hates it.



  • Jim__L

    STEM fields tend to be extremely competitive, with a high percentage of kids changing majors, or changing schools to a less challenging school.

    This is a good argument against affirmative action, in fact. Taking the information from a previous VM post that STEM careers pay at similar levels independent of the school you go to, it would definitely be to a minority student’s advantage (any student’s advantage, really) to get a STEM degree at whatever school they are most likely to excel at, rather than whatever school will accept them based on admissions criteria unrelated to potential academic performance, that they’d likely wash out of.

    The critical decision point seems to be their life path at the point of washing out of their chosen school’s STEM program — do they stick with the high-profile school and choose to major in -Studies or the Socalled (er, “Social”) Sciences, or do they swallow their pride and finish out their STEM degree at a lower-rated school? It’s clear that the second choice is better economically, but is that a decision a 20-year-old would make?

    • Andrew Allison

      The attrition rates for STEM are no different than for other majors ( This suggests that the problem may be that the reason that Blacks are over-represented in lower-paying fields is that they choose them because they are perceived to be easier ways to obtain a degree. The real problem is that roughly half the kids in college shouldn’t be.

      • GS

        more than a half, Andrew Allison. Only one-sixth to one-tenth of the age cohort is college material [and that depends on the particular Bell Curve one is talking about. Say, for the Ashkenazim with their median IQ 112, the 115 cutoff means 40% are the prime college material. For the East Asians, median 107, it would be 30%, and so on]

        • Andrew Allison

          So how do we go about dissuading colleges from enrolling students who are unfit ? I’m groping here in search of a solution to a huge problem. As I wrote, cutting off the money to colleges which fail to meet graduation success criteria is one possibility, but maybe the first thing to do is kill the stupid notion that a college degree guarantees a well-paying job. As the un-/under-employment stats make clear, there’s already a huge over-supply of graduates. Another possibility might be to full full financial disclosure as part of admissions, i.e., what the degree is likely to cost, the job prospects for various majors and the financial burden of student loans.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Shut down roughly 90% of the colleges (this is simple enough, turn off the Federal aid, and they dry up and blow away), get rid of Duke v. Griggs, and return college to what it once was….a way to pursue advanced studies for a small group that wished to do so, not as a gate-keeper to the middle class.

          • Andrew Allison

            I’ve told you before, this has got to stop! [grin]
            FWIW in the mid-60s, 14% of British secondary education students went on to college versus 40% in the USA.

          • f1b0nacc1

            In the period just prior to WWII, the number of Americans who ended up spending at least 1 year in colleges or universities was about 2.5%. That strikes me as about just right.
            The idea that this can be fixed by trimming around the edges is a non-starter. Most of these institutions have no purpose other than providing employment for professors and administrators who have no other skills worth mentioning. Take away the tax dollars and court cases that subsidize their indulgences, and they will disappear like a bad dream, and we will be free of their baleful influence.

          • Andrew Allison

            It’s a very different world from the 1930s, and there are many more skilled jobs. But we’re in violent agreement about drastically reducing taxpayer funding for the leeches who have taken over higher ed. Assume that this situation can be fixed, it will take a generation for the nightmare to end.

          • f1b0nacc1

            I am not sure that I agree with you about the 1930s versus today. There are a lot more CREDENTIALLED jobs, but how many of those jobs require a college education (as opposed to an apprenticeship or other training) is not clear. A trained machinist, for instance, doesn’t need a college degree, though they are certainly a highly skilled (and trained) individual.
            As for how long it would take to end this….perhaps much faster than you think….

          • Andrew Allison

            I wasn’t writing about credentials per se, but of jobs which require the sort of skills that a (competent) higher education demands, e.g. STEM. I’ve argued previously that we to divert much of today’s college intake to trade schools. I don’t think is arguable that the demand for unskilled labor has declined. Furthermore, I wasn’t writing about how long it might take to make the change (although I’m less optimistic than you are) but how long it would take to flush the effects of this catastrophe from society — most of the people who are graduating today will need many years to figure out the bum deal they got and determine to get a better one for their kids.

          • f1b0nacc1

            I think that you might be surprised at how few jobs actually require a university-level education, even if we were actually providing such educations today. Certainly most of IT doesn’t need it, and most engineering would be better handled through apprenticeship programs and other training initiatives. Medicine could be handled through specialized medical schools, rather than running pre-meds through conventional colleges. Want to go on? this is fun…
            Regarding the period for change, just drop the credential requirements, stop the subsidies, and let the changes occur. Within a few years, they will be well underway. Nobody says that we have to shoot all the existing students (though perhaps we might consider it….grin…), let them adjust long with everyone else. Remove the barriers to entry, and let the system evolve….it is what we do best!

          • Andrew Allison

            Always a pleasure. Let’s just agree that there are far too many kids going to college who shouldn’t be. I guess I wasn’t clear about why I think it would take a while — the current grads are going to have to be reeducated in the school of life, and that will take time.

          • GS

            The dissuasion has to be applied to the would-be student. The only way to dissuade, as I see it, is to [forcefully] rub one’s ineptitude right into one’s face, and preferably in a public setting – may it be known to everyone wishing to know. The 180° opposite of “self-esteem”. Nowadays one cannot birch the buttocks, but at least the self-esteems could be birched.
            Why, I am not a physically gifted specimen, and I know it. Therefore, even in my youth, I was never thinking of trying out, say, for the SEALs. This particular field of activity was, and remains, not for me – and I have not experienced any “discomfort” over it.

  • GS

    The Bell Curve. The different majors, and the different institutions, recruit from its different segments. What communion hath light with darkness [2 Cor. 6:14]? and what overlap does, say, an MIT STEM major have with a social justice major from some Outhouse College? They come from the totally different segments of the distribution, with overlap being minuscule to nonexistent.


    Maybe going for an Engineering Degree is just being too white but becoming a community organizer is for some unknown reason is not? Once sanders gets elected they will be handing out degrees, which ever ones you want, like chicklets and this problem will be solved.

  • qet

    This, from a writer at National Interest:

    “If you’re a student of color at an elite institution, you’re fed a distinct narrative: beat your plowshare of a liberal arts degree into a sword for equality. Usually some form of public protest of inequality is expected.”

    I suggest that the best way for these students of color to protest inequality would be for them to use their elite institution diplomas to advance their own private social and economic upward mobility, thereby reducing said inequality and honoring the sacrifices made by their forebears in eras when said elite institutions were out of reach. They will become parents of the next generation of students of color who will have had access to better primary and secondary education, thereby reducing the need to rely on affirmative action to continue to gain admission to said elite institutions. “Social justice” will automatically follow after a few generations of this cycle.

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