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Hispanic graduation rate at the University of Maryland lagging

For the University of Maryland, adapting to a growing Hispanic population is already a challenge.

The six-year graduation rate among Hispanic students is lagging behind those of white and Asian students by about 15 percent, university President Dan Mote said in his State of the Campus address this year.

But now, with the number of Hispanic students graduating from Maryland high schools expected to triple by 2014, according to statistics commissioned by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education Board of Regents, the effort to close the achievement gap has taken on new urgency.

“We use this data to make the case that there needs to be a lot of thought,” said Brian Prescott, a research associate with Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, which provided the regents with data on the growth of the Hispanic population. “Those [minority] students are likely to have different needs and expectations from college than the students that are enrolled.”

Mote mentioned minority graduation rates as one of his few disappointments in his State of the Campus address this year. Black students also face sluggish graduation rates, Mote said, despite the university’s public relations campaign that touted the university’s success in graduating more black students than many other public institutions.

While university officials can’t give any specifics yet on what its plans are for improving minority graduation rates, Undergraduate Studies Associate Dean Kathy McAdams said addressing the challenges posed by the growing minority population on the campus will be a top priority in the school’s 10-year strategic plan.

The plan is being formulated by a committee this year, which will present recommendations next semester. Mote has said he hopes the plan will chart the university’s path to closing gaps such as minority graduation rates, among other challenges.

To explain why the achievement gap exists, most experts point to economic culprits.

Andrew Grant-Thomas, deputy director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, said low minority graduation rates can be traced back to disparities in public school funding.

But beyond the lack of preparation minority students get from public schools in poor areas, minority students are also less likely to come from families in which parents have attended college, Grant-Thomas said.

“The parents of black and Latino kids bring lower human capital [to the college experience],” he said. “There’s a big difference over what they get from home.”

Minority students, many of whom come from low-income backgrounds, aren’t home free after being accepted to college, though, said Melinda Chateauvert, assistant professor of African American studies. Many have to work to stay in school, Chateauvert said, and either can’t focus on classes or take longer than six years to graduate.

The economic challenges that minority students face could be addressed to some degree by the Commission to Develop the Maryland Model for Funding Higher Education, also known as the Hogan Commission.

At the group’s meeting last week, Andrea Mansfield, the finance policy assistant secretary at Maryland Higher Education Commission, pointed out that more than 29,600 students are on the wait list for state need-based aid. And when the commission compiles recommendations next year, it could suggest that the state increase funds for scholarships.

Another challenge for minority achievement some have pointed to is the language barrier. According to a presentation from system Vice Chancellor Joe Vivona before the Board of Regents last month, 48 percent of Hispanics and 31 percent of Asians speak English “less than well.”

However, Mote said the university would not create Spanish language courses to replace English ones, saying he believes it important for all students to get their degrees in English. Toward that end, Director of Undergraduate Admissions Barbara Gill said the university’s diversity offices and the Maryland English Institute are designed to boost English skills.

(C) 2007 The Diamondback via Associated Press


–Associated Press

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