Grad Rates Increase, But not Necessarily for Black Students

Across the nation, campus activists – led by black students – are pushing university leaders to address racism and other inequities and to work harder to close completion gaps between black and white students.

A new report out today from The Education Trust shows how critical these demands are – even at institutions with track records of improvement in overall student success.

The report, titled Rising Tide II: Do Black Students Benefit as Grad Rates Increase?  finds that completion rates for black students increased at almost 70% of the 232 public, four-year institutions that improved overall graduation rates 2003—2013. But at more than half of those institutions, 53%, the gains among black students were not as large as those among white students, widening gaps between groups.

Worse still, at almost one-third (or 73) of the institutions that improved overall student success, graduation rates for black students were flat or declining. At 39 of these institutions, black graduation rates fell even as white graduation rates increased.

“Just like many of the campus activists suggest, our data shows that university leaders can and should do more to create a more supportive and welcoming environment that allows black students to thrive,” said Andrew H. Nichols, Ph.D., in a statement. He is Ed Trust’s director of higher education research and data analytics and a co-author of the report.

The good news is that there are institutions that are serious about improving success for all students, and they get more students to commencement day while also closing gaps. The report lists 52 such institutions that stand out for raising graduation rates among black students and narrowing gaps. Exemplars profiled in the report include the following:

  • Texas Tech University, where staff created Mentor Tech in response to surveys they conducted with former students to learn why they left the university before graduating. In 2002, the program started with just 46 students. Today, it enrolls more than 1,000.
  • The Ohio State University, where campus leaders attribute their success to a three-pronged approach that includes 1) pre-collegiate outreach and support for first-generation, low-income students; 2) an Early Arrival program that helps black freshmen acculturate to college; and 3) continuing on-campus support for underrepresented students.

“Institutional leaders can’t be satisfied with overall gains – or even just with any increase for black students,” said Jose Luis Santos, Ph.D., vice president of higher education policy and practice at Ed Trust, in a statement. “Leaders must strive for accelerated gains among black students so they can catch up to their peers. Thankfully, there are institutions across the country that are showing the way forward.”

The Education Trust is a nonprofit advocacy organization that promotes high academic achievement for all students at all levels, pre-kindergarten through college.