Thought Leader Series: Improving Black student college graduation rates

The percentage of first-time, full-time undergraduate students who complete their bachelor’s degree in six years or less is 61 percent. This statistic isn’t great, but for Black students, the rate is even more alarming. Only 42 percent of first-time, full-time Black undergraduates complete a bachelor’s degree in six years. 

Education is one of the most prominent areas where systemic racism is still deeply rooted in institutions, yet education is also one of our most powerful tools for creating a more equitable society. Solving this educational discrepancy at the collegiate level is a solution for creating more prepared workers and closing the education and pay gap between Black students and their white peers. 

A new study conducted by Eduventures, looks at colleges that break the mold with above-average graduation rates. Today’s Thought Leader Series draws from an analysis of this study by Eduventures Chief Research Officer Richard Garrett.

Only 67 US institutions report a Black graduation rate of at least 70 percent and only 37 schools to have Black students graduating at a rate of three percentage points or higher than the institutional average. The report found just 10 schools where Black students had sustained, steady, and growing rates of full-time, first-time graduation rates above both the institutional and national average. This is where they focused their attention when looking for educational equity solutions. 

Among those 10 schools, three, in particular, stood out: SUNY Albany (University of Albany), New York, Towson University, Maryland, and Amherst College, Massachusetts. So what boosts success at these schools? Let’s take a look. 

First and foremost, SUNY Albany and Towson University are both located near urban areas with more diverse populations. Although there are many counterexamples to this phenomenon, it could be a factor in enrollment.

Secondly, looking at the history of these schools also provides some insights. Once a whites-only college, Towson University transitioned to a multi-ethnic university in the 1960s with leaders such as Julius Chapman, the university’s first Dean of Minority Affairs. SUNY Albany also relied on Black leadership to diversify their student body and promote Black graduation rates. Their first Black president, Robert J Jones, served from 2007 to 2012 and made Black success a focal point of his leadership. 

The report notes that factors like diversity, equity, and inclusion curriculums and training seminars for professors as well as support structures for students within the schools are also influential. Garrett emphasizes: “That a handful of schools have successfully challenged the narrative of Black undergraduate underperformance is not a matter of special circumstances, but of choice and persistence.

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