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Did You Know?: African Americans Made Educational Gains 1940-2019

88 percent of Blacks Have a High School Diploma, 26 percent a bachelor’s degree

About 90 percent of the U.S. population has graduated high school, a dramatic improvement in educational attainment that began when compulsory education was adopted by every state a century ago.

But the most striking social shift is the shrinking of the high school attainment gap between Blacks and the national average.

In 1940, when the U.S. Census Bureau started asking about educational attainment, only 7percent of

Blacks had a high school education, compared with 24 percent for the nation as a whole.

In 1940, less than 5 percent of all adults and only 1 percent of Blacks had completed four years of college. The persistent gap in rates between Blacks and the national average was 4 percentage points at that time, while Black college completion was one-fourth the national rate.

In 2019, both groups had much higher college attainment rates overall, with the national average at 36 percent, while 26 percent of Blacks ages 25 and older had attained a bachelor’s degree. Despite the percentage point gap, Black college completion has grown closer to about three-quarters of the national average.

Public school student demographics show White students make up 47.0 percent, Hispanic students, roughly 27.2 percent; and Black students: 15.1 percent.  Conversely, public school teacher demographics note White teachers make up 79.3 percent of the teaching body, Hispanics, 9.3 percent; and Black teachers, only 6.7 percent.  

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