Some public colleges and universities are making gains, closing gaps in graduation rates for minority students

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this

Data from College Results Online show progress at various institutions throughout the United States

Publication date: 
January 28 2010

WASHINGTON (January 28, 2010) – When choosing a college, many young people often make their decision based on popularity and prestige. What they may not consider is the school’s track record in actually graduating students.

     For students of color, this issue is particularly important: Nationally, only about 40 percent of underrepresented minority, or URM, students (African American, Latino, and Native American) earn a bachelor’s degree within six years. The figure for nonminority students is more than 60 percent. But according to two briefs released today by The Education Trust, many institutions of varying types are ensuring that far more young Americans of color earn a degree.

     “Top Gainers” and “Top Gap Closers” highlight public institutions nationwide that have made the biggest improvements in these areas. For example, since 2002:

  • Georgia State University—a research university in downtown Atlanta—boosted its minority graduation rate by 18.4 percentage points. In 2002, only 32.3 percent of minority students graduated in six years. By 2007, that rate had increased to 50.7 percent—which exceeds the school’s non-minority graduation rate of 45.5 percent. The university ranks fifth nationwide in the number of bachelor’s degrees granted to African-American students, according to Diverse magazine.
  • The University of Wisconsin-Madison, a school with a relatively small population of minority students, improved its URM graduation rate by 11.5 percentage points to 60.4 percent. At the same time, their gap between non-URM and URM students narrowed by 8.9 points. In 2007, Wisconsin’s minority students graduated at almost 20 percentage points above the national average.
  • The URM graduation rate at rural Western Oregon University jumped from 26.3 percent in 2002 to 42.3 percent in 2007. Now, the gap between minority graduation rates and non-minority graduation rates at this public liberal arts college is just 3.1 percentage points. 
  • Richard Stockton College of New Jersey—a suburban campus located near Atlantic City—increased its URM graduation rate by 7.5 percentage points, improving to 58.5 percent in 2007.

     “Nationwide, two-thirds of minority students who attend a four-year college attend a public institution,” said Christina Theokas, director of research at The Education Trust and coauthor of the briefs. “Given their mission to serve the higher education needs of their communities and their states, it’s critical for public institutions to not just provide access to these students but also help more of them succeed. The good news is that some are taking that charge seriously.”

     Using data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System  and College Results Online—a unique Web-based tool that allows the public to view college graduation rates by race, ethnicity, and gender—the studies found that about 60 percent of public four-year colleges have seen improved graduation rates for students of color since 2002. At the same time, 46 percent of these institutions narrowed the graduation-rate gap between minority and nonminority students.
 
     The significant gains made by these schools in boosting minority student success and closing gaps are not just happenstance. The public colleges and universities recognized in these briefs have made success for all students—especially minorities—a primary focus.

     At Georgia State, for example, minority students now graduate at rates higher than their nonminority classmates, putting them atop the list of best improvers in each of the two Ed Trust briefs. According to Ron Henry, the school’s former provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, these gains came first and foremost by focusing on data. Henry and his colleagues used data to identify various potholes on the path to a bachelor’s degree for GSU students, from high failure rates in introductory courses to high dropout rates between the sophomore and junior years, when students transition into courses for their majors.

     Although GSU took a campuswide approach to improving outcomes for all students, when administrators disaggregated the data, they found that some programs were particularly effective for minority students. For example, first-year learning communities—where faculty members coordinate teaching two or more courses and often serve as advisers to the same group of students—were instrumental in improving retention rates between the freshman and sophomore years by five to six percentage points for all students. But for minority students, these rates rose by ten to 12 percentage points.

     “Georgia State’s example demonstrates that public institutions can strive for access and success simultaneously. Institutions should see these as twin goals, not an either-or proposition,” said Jennifer Engle, assistant director of higher education at The Education Trust and coauthor of the briefs. “To reach President Obama’s goal of regaining the global lead in educated adults by 2020, graduating more students—especially from fast-growing minority groups—must be a national priority.”

     This work was supported by a grant from Lumina Foundation for Education. The foundation works to ensure that 60 percent of Americans are college-educated by 2025.

# # #

About College Results Online

College Results Online (www.collegeresults.org) is an interactive tool designed to provide information about graduation rates for most four-year colleges and universities. It allows users to:
• Examine graduation rates and see how these rates have changed over time.
• Compare graduation rates of similar colleges serving similar students.
• Learn about colleges’ track records in graduating diverse groups of students.
Some colleges do a much better job of graduating students than others. At many colleges, signifi cant gaps exist in graduation rates between white students and students of color. But some colleges are proving that low graduation rates—especially for minority students—are not inevitable.