The gap in degree attainment between white students and minorities has been a persistent and troubling trend in higher education. But two new reports by the Education Trust highlight schools that are making progress and explains the strategies used to improve graduation rates for African-American and Hispanic students.
The difference in student success in college by race is substantial and relatively unchanged. The Washington-based nonprofit's Advancing to Completion study on African-Americans reports that in 2004, 41.2 percent of black students graduated in six years, compared to 40.6 percent in 2010. During the same time, overall gradation rates increased from 57.3 percent to 60.1 percent.
Yet, there was significant variation in black achievement by institution. African-American graduation rates actually increased at more than half the schools in the study, dropped in 40 percent, and remained the same at 10 percent. Nearly three out of five black students in the Ed Trust study were concentrated in the schools that declined or remained stagnant over six years.
To help minority students be aware of campuses that might provide the best supports, Ed Trust ranked top gainers and losers by institution type. It noted that gaps can close in a variety of ways, not all of them productive. So the Ed Trust analysis only included colleges that did not grow more exclusive over time, while making gains in graduation rates for black students and keeping graduation rates for white students steady or improving.
At schools where the attainment gap is closing, administrators often make a concerted efforts to engage students, link their academic life and residential life, and identify students early who are at risk of dropping out and provide additional supports. The report includes several examples of approaches that have worked on specific campuses, as model programs.
Ed Trust also examined the landscape for Hispanic students in a companion report. Here, the four-year, nonprofit colleges public and private that have made the most improvements for Hispanic students are ranked.
While gaps remain, Hispanic students are progressing at about the same rate as students overall. Between 2004 and 2010, Hispanic graduation rates increased by 3.5 percentage points, from 43.7 percent in 2004 to 47.2 percent in 2010.
The report notes: "Only when colleges institutionalize the policies and practices that make programs for underrepresented students
successful will they bring about a transformative process that benefits all students, and Hispanic students in particular."