Reports Highlight Disparities in Graduation Rates Among White and Minority Students

August 09, 2010

A pair of reports released on Monday by the Education Trust seek to reveal how disparate graduation rates are among white, black, and Hispanic students at hundreds of public and private universities, and call attention to individual institutions where the gaps are particularly large or small.

Fifty-seven percent of all students who enroll in four-year, nonprofit colleges earn diplomas within six years, but the graduation rates for different groups of students vary vastly. On average, 60 percent of white students who start college have earned bachelor's degrees six years later. But only 49 percent of Hispanic students and 40 percent of black students do.

The two reports, which deal separately with Hispanic and black students as compared to their white peers, seek to look beneath the averages, highlighting individual colleges that are doing well and also focusing on those that are missing the mark on graduation equity. The findings are based on several years of data from College Results Online, a Web-based tool developed by the Education Trust that allows comparisons of college graduation rates by race, ethnicity, and gender for four-year institutions across the country.

Graduation rates at individual colleges tell a range of stories, said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a nonprofit organization that focuses on closing the educational opportunity and achievement gaps among all students from pre-kindergarten through college. Some institutions have achieved "smashing success," she said, while others have records of "shocking irresponsibility."

The lesson of these stories, she said, is that "what colleges do for students of color powerfully impacts the futures of these young people and that of our nation."

Among the colleges with a large gap in graduation rates is Wayne State University, where fewer than one in 10 black students graduate within six years. For white students, the rate is 43.5 percent, more than four times higher.

At another, the City University of New York's Brooklyn College, the success rate for Hispanic students is 34 percent, compared with a 53-percent graduation rate for white students.

Despite the troubling figures, the reports also found some public and private colleges where the graduation rate for minority students equals, or even exceeds, the one for white students. The colleges that landed on the "small gaps" list have shown a strong commitment to student success by adopting strategies that promote equity and high academic achievement, the reports found.

Among the colleges on the "small gaps" lists are the University of California at Riverside, Florida International University, and Old Dominion University, in Virginia.

With a focus on data, strong leadership, and retention efforts at each of its colleges, the University of California at Riverside can boast 63-percent and 67-percent graduation rates for Hispanic and black students, respectively. The graduation rate for white students at the university is 62 percent. About two-thirds of all students at Riverside graduate within six years.

In 2008, 56 percent of black students at Old Dominion graduated within six years or less, exceeding the national average. Completion rates among Hispanic students at Florida International University have outpaced those among white students in each of the past seven years.

The reports ("Big Gaps, Small Gaps: Some Colleges and Universities Do Better Than Others in Graduating African-American Students," and "Big Gaps, Small Gaps: Some Colleges and Universities Do Better Than Others in Graduating Hispanic Students") are available on the Education Trust's Web site.