College students’ experiences vary significantly by race and ethnicity. Often, institutions prioritize structuring their undergraduate experience to cater to white students’ needs and desires, such as by hiring predominantly white instructors, and creating classroom learning environments that privilege white students. Though scholars researching students’ college experiences and outcomes frequently measure college quality by more easily defined data—such as graduation rates and students’ earnings after college—more research is needed that explicitly examines the racial and ethnic variation in students’ college satisfaction.
This report explores student-reported satisfaction from a nationally representative sample with a focus on variation across racial and ethnic groups, with most of our analyses centered on the four largest racial and ethnic groups (Asian, Black, Hispanic, and white people). We find that Asian respondents rate their education experiences the highest, although satisfaction decreases when adding controls, including level of education. Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander and white respondents show similar trends, though less dramatically. We also find that Black and Hispanic students appear to be more satisfied with their college experiences when we take individual and college characteristics into consideration.
Despite the data showing a general decrease in students’ ratings of the quality of their education, ratings have been on the rise for those who attended college within the most recent decade. Our findings reinforce the need to deepen our exploration of college “success” measures beyond the average student. Though significant work is still needed before these measures of students’ experiences can be integrated into larger policy measures of college quality, by examining racial and ethnic differences, we can demonstrate strong variation in the ways institutional characteristics and students’ experiences relate to their perceptions of college quality.