Public Universities, Equal Opportunity, and the Legacy of Jim Crow: Evidence from North Carolina

40 Pages Posted: 21 Sep 2015 Last revised: 17 Jun 2023

See all articles by Charles T. Clotfelter

Charles T. Clotfelter

Duke University - Sanford School of Public Policy; Duke University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Helen F. Ladd

Duke University - Sanford School of Public Policy

Jacob Vigdor

University of Washington

Date Written: September 2015

Abstract

College attendance and completion in the U.S. are strongly correlated with race and socioeconomic background. Do public postsecondary institutions themselves exacerbate pre-college disparities, or reduce them? We address this question using longitudinal data linking the records of students at North Carolina’s public four-year universities to their public K-12 records. As a result of an institutional structure forged during the period of Jim Crow segregation, black students who attend the state’s public university system are likely to experience markedly more racial isolation in college than they did in middle school. Another, more positive consequence of this structure is to boost in-state public four-year college enrollment and graduation by African-American students relative to white students with similar backgrounds. Conditional on enrolling in one of the state’s public universities, however, black students lag behind whites in grades and graduation rates. Regarding socioeconomic background, we find that lower-status youth are less likely to enter the system and less likely to succeed once they enter than those with higher status. The socioeconomic gap in graduation rates among matriculants has, however, declined in recent years.

Suggested Citation

Clotfelter, Charles T. and Ladd, Helen F. and Vigdor, Jacob, Public Universities, Equal Opportunity, and the Legacy of Jim Crow: Evidence from North Carolina (September 2015). NBER Working Paper No. w21577, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2663235

Charles T. Clotfelter (Contact Author)

Duke University - Sanford School of Public Policy ( email )

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Duke University - Department of Economics

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Helen F. Ladd

Duke University - Sanford School of Public Policy ( email )

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United States
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Jacob Vigdor

University of Washington ( email )

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