Educational attainment levels for young Americans in minority groups still lag, but a number of institutions are making significant progress toward improving that picture by increasing the number of black and Hispanic students they graduate, according to a pair of new reports from the Education Trust.
The shift is significant because students of color are a growing demographic group, and more of them need to graduate in order for the nation to reach its college-completion goals, the advocacy group says. Graduating also means a fighting chance at decent employment, given that many future jobs will require a postsecondary degree.
The two reports, based on a study called "Advancing to Completion," list Virginia Commonwealth University, Texas Tech University, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook among the institutions that had significantly increased graduation rates and closed attainment gaps among their minority-student populations.
Almost 40 percent of white Americans ages 25 to 29 have earned at least a bachelor's degree. Yet for African-Americans in that age range, the attainment rate is only half that, and for young Hispanics, it's one-third the rate for whites, the reports say.
Despite those grim statistics, the Education Trust's study shows what can happen when institutions make graduating minority students a priority, says Jennifer Engle, an author of the reports. "These institutions are demonstrating that low graduation rates are not inevitable for minority students," she said.
For students, Ms. Engle says, this is particularly good news because it means that they "are accomplishing what they set out to do when they enrolled in college. That is a huge win. Staying in college is sometimes harder than getting in."
Minority students are making great strides at Virginia Commonwealth University, a large public research institution in Richmond, largely because of the institution's University College model, the report on African-American students says. "The model is built around a cohesive core curriculum with a limited set of course options and small class sizes," the report says.
Virginia Commonwealth also keeps close tabs on students' progress by requiring them to meet with advisers and monitoring their class attendance.
The result: From 2004 to 2010, the graduation rate for black students increased from 34.5 percent to 49.8 percent, catching up to that of their white counterparts, the report says. Over the same period, the graduation rate for Hispanic students improved by more than 20 percentage points, and they also now graduate at about the same rate, 48.7 percent, as their white counterparts, the report says.
At some colleges, minority students are surpassing white students. In 2010 black students graduated from Stony Brook at a higher rate than white students, 71.3 percent compared with 58.7 percent. Hispanic students accomplished the same feat at the University of San Francisco. In 2010 the six-year graduation rate for Hispanic students there was 70.9 percent, compared with only 66.5 percent for white students.
Ms. Engle says it incumbent on all colleges to understand the importance of graduating more minority students. "These are the students coming up from our K-12 system," she says. "This is the group we are depending on to become internationally competitive."
The reports are available online. Their full titles are "Advancing to Completion: Increasing Degree Attainment by Improving Graduation Rates and Closing Gaps for African-American Students" and "Advancing to Completion: Increasing Degree Attainment by Improving Graduation Rates and Closing Gaps for Hispanic Students."