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Colleges Take Action to Boost Minority Grad Rates

Many colleges and universities place a premium on enrolling a racially diverse student body. But at most of these schools, their graduates might not be as varied as the students who entered as freshmen. Only about 40 percent of underrepresented minority students—blacks, Latinos, and American Indians—graduate from college within six years; the same statistic for nonminorities is 60 percent.

Experts say that much of the disparity in graduation rates can be attributed to the different economic backgrounds students bring when they enter college, a criterion in which minorities tend to be disadvantaged. This relationship between economic background and graduation rates is particularly significant for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which generally enroll more students with limited financial resources. The six-year graduation rates at even the top three black colleges as ranked by U.S. News are 78 percent (Spelman College), 69 percent (Howard University), and 61 percent (Morehouse College), according to 2007 data from the National Center for Education Statistics. For comparison, the graduation rate for U.S. News’s top three National Universities are 98 percent (Harvard), 96 percent (Princeton), and 97 percent (Yale). At many HBCUs, the graduation rate hovers in the range of 30 to 40 percent. But many HBCUs are striving to ensure that more students of color earn a degree. “There are many systemic institutional programs and solutions that are beginning to address this,” says Alvin Thornton, interim provost and chief academic officer at Howard University in the District of Columbia.