Achievement Inches Forward for African American Students, Though Large Gaps in Readiness Persist

Media Contacts:
Monique Lenoir
UNCF Communications
202.810.0231 
monique.lenoir@uncf.org

Elizabeth Farrell
ACT Public Affairs
917.627.4295 
elizabeth.farrell@act.org

(IOWA CITY, IA) — More African American students took the ACT® test and met key benchmarks for college readiness in 2015 than any prior year. Yet despite gains in participation and achievement, their progress still lags significantly behind their peers across the country. 

These findings appear in a new report, "The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2015: African American Students," released today by ACT and United Negro College Fund (UNCF). Over the past five years (2011-2015), the number of African American high school graduates taking the ACT test has increased by 13 percent, to more than 250,000 students in 2015. During the same time period, their progress toward meeting ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in at least three of the four core subject areas (English, math, reading and science) increased from 10 percent to 12 percent, while still lagging behind the 40 percent national average.

"This report is both encouraging and alarming," said Jim Larimore, ACT chief officer for the advancement of underserved learners. "It shows that as more African American students have opportunities to challenge themselves academically, a growing number are becoming college ready. However, at the same time, high-quality educational opportunities aren't increasing fast enough to serve the learning needs and aspirations of these students." 

According to the report, even when African American students take the recommended high school classes to prepare for college, they are significantly less likely than all students who take similar classes to meet college readiness benchmarks. 

"We're taking small steps in the right direction each year, but much more work remains to ensure that African American students receive the rigorous instruction that prepares them for the demands of college," said Michael L. Lomax, Ph.D., UNCF president and CEO. "This is a glimpse into the potential and power of widening opportunities for all students—as America is quickly becoming majority minority, we'll need more African American students adequately prepared with the knowledge, skills and college degrees to serve as leaders in the global economy." 

Key report findings include:

  • Science gains: Over the past five years, the percentage of African American students meeting the science readiness benchmark increased significantly, from 6 percent to 12 percent.
  • Plateau in math: The percentage of African American students meeting the math readiness benchmark remained flat since 2011, at 14 percent.
  • Slight drop in English: Over the same time period, the percentage of African American students meeting the English readiness benchmark fell from 35 percent to 34 percent.
  • STEM interest: Among African American students, those interested in STEM careers are the most prepared for college, with the highest benchmark achievement rates across each of the four core subjects. 

Supporting the research and recommendations in the report, both UNCF and ACT have increased their commitments to improving opportunities and success for underserved students. 

As part of ongoing efforts to increase access and equity, ACT recently began offering free access to the new version of ACT Online Prep™, a web-based resource that helps students prepare to take the ACT test, to students from low-income families who register for a national ACT test date with a fee waiver.

To improve college readiness, UNCF is expanding its K-12 advocacy work in key U.S. cities and has partnered with several organizations to release a parent checklist—a toolkit of key questions that parents should ask their child's school. UNCF has also increased its scholarship support, awarding more than 10,000 scholarships last year valued at more than $108 million, which helps students attend and persist through college. 

Read the report: "The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2015: African American Students

Details on "The National Condition of College & Career Readiness 2015" report are available here

Read the full report: "The National Condition of College & Career Readiness 2015" report

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About this research
The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2015: African American Students is the annual report from ACT and UNCF on the progress of U.S. high school graduates relative to college readiness. This year's report shows that 59 percent of all students in the 2015 U.S. graduating class took the ACT test, up from 47 percent in 2010. The increased number of test takers over the past several years enhances the breadth and depth of the data pool, providing a more comprehensive picture of the current graduating class in the context of college readiness as well as offering a glimpse at the emerging educational pipeline. During ACT registration, students are asked to provide information about family income, high school courses taken and postsecondary aspirations.

About UNCF
UNCF (United Negro College Fund) is the nation's largest and most effective minority education organization. To serve youth, the community, and the nation, UNCF supports students' education and development through scholarships and other programs, strengthens its 37 member colleges and universities, and advocates for the importance of minority education and college readiness. UNCF institutions and other historically black colleges and universities are highly effective, awarding nearly 20 percent of African American baccalaureate degrees. UNCF awards more than $100 million in scholarships annually and administers more than 400 programs, including scholarship, internship and fellowship, mentoring, summer enrichment, and curriculum and faculty development programs. Today, UNCF supports more than 60,000 students at more than 1,100 colleges and universities. Its logo features the UNCF torch of leadership in education and its widely recognized trademark, A mind is a terrible thing to waste®. Learn more at UNCF.org. For continuous news and updates, follow UNCF on Twitter, at @UNCF.