Many kids grow up being told the only way to succeed is by attending a four-year university. This belief can make postsecondary school seem out of reach, particularly for underresourced and marginalized groups like the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) population.
The BIPOC community is often at a disadvantage when it comes to financial resources and societal barriers. However, vocational and trade school programs can also provide excellent career opportunities and long-term financial stability.
This guide investigates statistics about postsecondary education and race and why some students may want to consider vocational school instead. Learn about 13 vocational school scholarships and additional resources that can help you on your educational journey.
Editor’s Note: We use language from individual studies and scholarships throughout this piece. For instance, if a study says “American Indian” rather than “Indigenous” or “African American” instead of “Black,” we use those terms. Here are a few words and acronyms you may need to know:
- AAPI: Asian American/Pacific Islanders; may include Native Hawaiians
- Associate: Degree program taking about two years
- Cosmetology: Programs focusing on hair, skin, nails, etc.
- Hispanic: People whose backgrounds are from Spanish-speaking countries
- Latinx: Gender-neutral term for those from Latin America or their descendants
- Postsecondary: Any schooling after high school
- Vocational/Trade School: Training for a specific applied career like carpentry or cosmetology
BIPOC Students and Barriers to Education
The good news is postsecondary education is becoming more diverse. The bad news is the diversity doesn’t reflect the country’s diversity, especially regarding who finishes postsecondary school. Here’s a deeper look at who’s enrolled in college, who completes college, and why.
College Enrollment and Race
This table shows the percentage of the postsecondary community college population by race vs. the standard college-aged population by race.
|Race||Percent of Postsecondary Population||Percent of Overall Population Ages 18-24|
|American Indian/Alaska Native||1%||1%|
*Asian students only. Pacific Islanders aren’t included in these statistics.
Postsecondary data comes from the American Association of Community Colleges (2022). Overall population estimates come from the National Center for Education Statistics (2020), rounded to the nearest whole number (accessed May 2022).
This data may not look so bad. After all, the percentage of BIPOC in the population is fairly similar to the numbers in a typical community college population. However, this doesn’t take into consideration how many BIPOC complete their postsecondary education.
College Graduation and Race
The number of college attendees doesn’t tell the whole story, and enrollment doesn’t necessarily lead to completion.
According to EducationData.org, “College graduation statistics indicate graduation among minority groups has become more attainable over time, but disparities still remain in terms of attainment.” They say white men are most likely to graduate with a degree of any level, while American Indian/Alaska Native men are least likely to do so.
In fact, college dropout rates are surprising across the board:
- American Indian/Alaska Native:36.2% for four-year colleges; 52.9% for two-year colleges
- Asian:10.44% for four-year colleges; 35.4% for two-year colleges
- Black: 30.6% for four-year colleges; 52% for two-year colleges
- Hispanic:21.4% for four-year colleges; 40.6% for two-year colleges
- Multiracial:22.8% for four-year colleges; 43% for two-year colleges
- White: 17.6% for four-year colleges; 42.3% for two-year colleges
Note: Two-year program “dropout” rates include all who don’t finish a degree, including those who move on to four-year programs.
So, even if some groups enroll in college at higher rates than their overall population, they’re generally less likely to complete school than their white peers.
Why Are There Racial Disparities in Postsecondary Graduation Rates?
It would take an entire book to dig into the nuances of why there are racial disparities in postsecondary enrollment and graduation rates. Two reasons stand out among all others, though: poverty and prejudice.
Poverty is a significant reason for racial disparities in higher education attendance and graduation rates. As of 2020, 11.6% of the general U.S. population lived at or below the poverty level.
But poverty isn’t divided evenly. Poverty levels within individual groups are:
- AAPI: 8%
- American Indian/Alaska Native:21.4%
- Black: 19.8%
- Hispanic: 17.1%
- White: 3%
Many spend their kindergarten through high school years being told college costs are worth it in the long run. But, if you must choose between a potential career four years from now or risking living out of a car today, which would you pick?
If someone at a higher risk of poverty starts school at all, they may need to drop out because they can’t continue to pay related costs without substantial financial aid.
Then, there’s prejudice. It comes in many different forms from many different places, both purposefully and unconsciously.
BIPOC may feel forced to enroll in majors that don’t align with their interests because of assumptions about their backgrounds or abilities—which could ultimately result in dropping out. Additionally, classes often exist to “weed out” certain students, and many experts believe this disproportionately harms BIPOC students.
Many BIPOC learners feel they don’t belong on campus because many campuses are overwhelmingly white to begin with. This feeling may be exacerbated by a lack of relevant mentorships or community organizations allowing them to explore who they are as they transition to adulthood.
And, of course, there’s racism from classmates, professors, and others to contend with. It can be frightening for BIPOC students to come forward about these challenges, so leaving may seem safer.
Benefits of Vocational Training
Fortunately, vocational schooling can be a perfect fit for students of any race, including BIPOC. You may want to consider vocational school if you plan to pursue a trade (such as cosmetology), aren’t interested in attending a traditional college, or want a program you can complete comparatively quickly and inexpensively.
As EducationData.org points out, “vocational and trades jobs [are] often overlooked” when discussing postsecondary education and future outcomes. They observe how other countries value vocational training while American high schools push for four-year degrees.
However, a degree isn’t always worth it. About 40% of those with college degrees ultimately have jobs that don’t require degrees. Further, the number of graduates whose degrees aren’t relevant to their careers is astronomical.
Chances are you’ve heard those lines before and still feel pressure to go to college immediately after high school—even if you know you want to do something that requires certification or license. Keep in mind that people who don’t complete college average $4 less per hour than those who complete a certificate or vocational program.
If trade school sounds like a better “risk” than starting a degree you’re not passionate about or may not be financially able to finish, check out these vocational scholarships specifically for BIPOC students.
Below is a list of scholarships for people who identify as BIPOC and want to attend a vocational, certificate, or associate degree program. Remember, not all cosmetology programs end in associate degrees, so make sure the coursework and scholarships you’re applying for line up.
These aren’t the only scholarships BIPOC cosmetology or other vocational school students may be eligible for. Many individual schools offer their own scholarships, and there are also general scholarships available that aren’t specifically for BIPOC students. Don’t limit yourself!
American Indian Education Fund: Undergraduate Scholarships
Apply by: April 4Amount awarded: Up to $2,000 per year
Native American and Alaska Native students may apply for these scholarships so long as they can provide documentation of tribal enrollment (self or parent) and enroll full-time in an accredited technical, college, or university program.
The fund prefers a GPA of 2.0-3.5 and an ACT score of 14+. But anyone who’s otherwise eligible is encouraged to apply.
Bridging the Dream Scholarship
Apply by: February 28Amount awarded: Up to $10,000
CEW IV Foundation Scholarship Program
Apply by: May 15Amount awarded: $500
Apply by: VariesAmount awarded: Varies
Francisco Toro Ramirez Sr. Scholarship
Apply by: May 16Amount awarded: $500
Hispanic Empowerment No-Essay Scholarship
Apply by: April 16Amount awarded: $750
Jae’Sean Tate BUILT Scholarship
Apply by: May 6Amount awarded: $8,000
JCS Beauty “Nourish & Shine” BIPOC Cosmetology Scholarship
Apply by: May 31Amount awarded: $5,000
K18 Future Artist Scholarship Fund
Apply by: December 31Amount awarded: $5,000
L’Oréal Professionnel Paris Empowering Diversity Scholarship
Apply by: May 31Amount awarded: $5,000
Point BIPOC Scholarship for LGBTQ Students
Apply by: May 9Amount awarded: Unpublished
Sage Michaela Lucas Timing is Everything Scholarship
Apply by: May 31Amount awarded: $5,000
TheDream.US National Scholarships for High School and Community College Graduates
Apply by: February 28Amount awarded: Up to $16,500 for an associate
The information and list of scholarships above aren’t the only resources for BIPOC students interested in attending vocational or trade programs. Below are a few other places to find scholarships, general aid, and more.
Beauty Changes Lives
This nonprofit advocates for the beauty industry, encouraging those interested in the field to pursue beauty professions as their first-choice careers. They support aspiring beauty professionals every step of the way, including via a mentorship program.
Beyond the Salon: Unexpected Jobs in the Beauty Industry
Whether you’re unsure about your future career or want to take a unique path after seeking licensure, this article can help you find unique career paths.
This massive scholarship search site has options for nearly everyone and makes it easy to apply directly from their pages. People can also donate to scholarships they’re passionate about.
Cappex College Greenlight
College Greenlight helps historically underrepresented, first-generation, and low-income students navigate the higher education process, from school choice to graduation. They also may help with finances.
This free college advising service is for lower-income students who excel in academia. They provide advisors to help these learners and their families learn about the college application process and even help them apply.
Federal Student Aid FAFSA FAQs
You need to fill out the FAFSA for many types of tuition aid. This is the official FAQ page about how to do this, and it includes contact information so you can ask any additional questions.
Financial Aid for Cosmetology School
This article provides further information about scholarships and other forms of beauty school financial assistance.
The NAACP offers several scholarships to help Black students and early professionals graduate with less debt. The rest of the NAACP site also supplies excellent information on current events and helpful resources.
Scholarships.com is one of the largest scholarship roundup sites on the internet. Though this links directly to their page for BIPOC, women, and LGBTQ+ students, remember to look through the general pages as well!
Scholarships360 is a scholarship database offering a personalized scholarship matching quiz. After taking the quiz, they send weekly emails detailing scholarships you may be eligible for.
Thurgood Marshall College Fund
TMCF scholarships are for students who meet specific needs and merit requirements. Though the fund awards scholarships without regard to race or any other protected class, most go to BIPOC students.