In February 2019, the American Council on Education (ACE)—the nation’s most visible and influential higher education association—in collaboration with the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International, released the first in a series of reports, Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education: A Status Report, along with an interactive microsite. In November 2020, ACE released Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education: 2020 Supplement. This work was made possible through generous funding provided by the Mellon Foundation.

The racial and ethnic makeup of the United States has diversified substantially since the country’s founding, with dramatic changes occurring in just the last 20 years. Racial and ethnic diversity comes with a host of benefits at all levels of education and in the workforce—greater productivity, innovation, and cultural competency, to name a few. Moreover, the current and future health of our nation—economic and otherwise—requires that the whole of our population have equitable access to sources of opportunity.

Chief among such sources of opportunity is higher education. It is therefore imperative that educators, policymakers, community leaders, members of the media, and others have access to timely data on one of the most salient predictors of higher education access and success in this country: race and ethnicity. To be clear, there are myriad factors that inform educational access and success, such as income, wealth, geography, and age. Yet it remains the case—as the data in this and other studies show—that race is a prevailing factor in many educational outcomes. These data provide a foundation from which the higher education community and its many stakeholders can draw insights, raise new questions, and make the case for why race still matters in American higher education.

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The American Council on Education

ACE, the major coordinating body for the nation’s colleges and universities, is a membership organization that mobilizes the higher education community to shape effective public policy and foster innovative, high-quality practice. ACE represents nearly 1,700 college and university presidents and executives at related associations, and is the only major higher education association to represent all types of U.S. accredited, degree-granting institutions: two-year and four-year, public and private. ACE’s members represent two out of every three students in all accredited, degree-granting institutions in the nation.

The Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International

RTI International is an independent, nonprofit research institute dedicated to improving the human condition. Clients rely on them to answer questions that demand an objective and multidisciplinary approach—one that integrates expertise across the fields of social and laboratory sciences, engineering, and international development. Combining scientific rigor and technical proficiency, they deliver reliable data, thorough analysis, innovative methods, novel technologies, and sustainable programs that help clients inform public policy and ground practice in evidence.

Mellon Foundation

The Mellon Foundation

The Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive. Learn more at

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we believe that every person deserves the chance to live a healthy, productive life. In the U.S., this means expanding life-changing opportunities, including – and especially – education. Getting an education after high school is critical in today’s economy. Virtually all of the jobs created in recent years require at least some postsecondary education. At the same time, the likelihood of accessing and completing that education depends on a person’s race or income. It shouldn’t, and we are working to change that. We and our partners work with colleges and universities to transform themselves so that more students – especially low-income and first-generation students, students of color, and working adults – can achieve their educational goals.