By Jared Wadley
University of Michigan
Attending a highly selective college may not level the playing field for African Americans when it comes to job offers after graduation.
Education in the United States is touted as the great equalizer—a way to overcome social disadvantages and secure a good job. But a new study finds that although a credential from an elite university results in more employer responses for all applicants, black candidates from these prestigious universities do only as well in getting the job as white candidates from less-selective universities.
A white candidate with a degree from an elite university can expect an employer response for every six résumés submitted. An equally qualified black candidate must submit eight résumés to receive a response. White candidates with a degree from a less-selective university need to submit nine résumés to expect a response, while a similar black candidate needs to submit 15 résumés.
“These racial differences suggest that a bachelor’s degree, even one from an elite institution, cannot fully counteract the importance of race in the labor market,” says S. Michael Gaddis, a postdoctoral scholar in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health Policy Scholars program at University of Michigan. “Thus, both discrimination and differences in human capital contribute to racial economic inequality.”
1,000 fake job applicants
For the study, published by Social Science Research Network, Gaddis created more than 1,000 fake job applicants through email addresses, phone numbers, and résumés, and applied to jobs online. Each candidate listed a degree from either an elite school (Harvard, Stanford, Duke) or a nationally ranked, but less-selective state university (University of Massachusetts-Amherst, University of California-Riverside, University of North Carolina-Greensboro).
Candidates had first names that likely identified their race: Jalen, Lamar, and DaQuan (black/male); Nia, Ebony, and Shanice (black/female); Caleb, Charlie, and Ronny (white/male); and Aubrey, Erica, and Leslie (white/female).
White job applicants with a degree from an elite university had the highest response rate (nearly 18 percent), followed by black candidates with a degree from an elite university (13 percent), and white candidates with a degree from a less-selective university (more than 11 percent). Black job applicants with a degree from a less-selective university had the lowest response rate (less than 7 percent).
“Education apparently has its limits because even a Harvard degree cannot make DaQuan as enticing as Charlie to employers,” Gaddis says.
Further, race may result in a double penalty. When employers responded to black candidates, it was for jobs with lower starting salaries and lower prestige than those of white peers. Black applicants received responses for jobs with a listed salary about $3,000 less than white candidates.
Overall, candidates with a degree from an elite university received responses for jobs with a listed salary $2,600 higher than applicants with a degree from a less-selective university, the study shows.