Gap in College Graduation Rates for Minorities and Whites Remains Large, Says New Report

Posted By Eliana Osborn on December 18, 2015 at 11:47 am
Gap in College Graduation Rates for Minorities and Whites Remains Large, Says New Report

Starting college is one thing, finishing it is another.  America’s high schools have done well at getting more and more students from all backgrounds into higher education.  But, there’s a long way to go at making graduation with a bachelor’s degree as common as starting the first day.

A report from Education Trust shows continued improvement in college graduation rates.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that non-white students are not having the same increases, even at public universities.  To be clear, minorities and whites all have better graduation rates than they did ten years ago.  But a gap remains—and it is a significant one.

Data about graduation rates at colleges with large numbers of students receiving Pell Grants was released earlier this fall.  Pell Grants are one means of measuring at-risk students, many of whom are non-white.  Also from Ed Trust, the Pell Grant report found a 5.7% gap between Pell and non-Pell graduation.  Race was not part of the study and much of the emphasis fell on which institutions are best serving poor students.

23 colleges were able to reduce the racial gap in graduation rates, according to Rising Tide: Do College Grad Rate Gains Benefit All Students?  Top schools include Washington State, San Diego State, Nicholls State, U-Mass Lowell, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and others.

Some colleges had a growing racial gap, indicating significant institutional changes needed to make sure all students are getting the same educational experience.  Schools like Texas A&M-Commerce improved white graduation rates, had declining minority graduation, and thus a gap that increased over 17% in the past ten years.  University of Central Arkansas and University of Missouri-Kansas City also have double digit increased racial gaps.

Research on graduation rates is somewhat controversial, as there are many ways to measure it.  Most common is the six-year completion method: how many students who entered in a year have received a bachelor’s degree six years later.  A report from the American Council on Education notes that this does not take into account students who may still be working towards a degree, just at a less than full-time pace.  ACE also mentions that graduation data have only been reported since 1996, making this a fairly new category for comparisons.

Over the ten years monitored by the Ed Trust report, graduation rates for minorities improved at 77% of the more than 300 four-year schools involved.  The rate of enhancement was only slightly above the rate for white students.  In a decade, nevertheless, to make only a single percentage point change in equalizing rates for all pupils, is disheartening.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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