Retention: Graduation’s Critical Component
Higher education has a skeleton it would rather keep in the closet. While reports of swelling minority student enrollments continue to circulate, there may be another side to the picture.
A college can enroll Black, Latino and American Indian students until the proverbial cows come home. But if these underrepresented populations don’t graduate, matriculation rates really don’t matter.
Even though in recent months, there has been some good news that national enrollment figures are up, and we’ve reported individual state and college success stories at recruiting students of color despite legal and other obstacles, there remains a critical component that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Retention figures are in a sorry state. While, more students of color are making it to college, many of them fail to return after their first few semesters. Among those who do return, even fewer graduate within six years. (Yes, six years. Anyone remember when it was once measured in four?)
Affirmative action advocacy must be combined with retention advocacy to provide more students with the tools for success. Winning the war means making sure students, once enrolled, graduate.
Institutions of higher education have to be held accountable. It doesn’t do any good to students, financial aid lenders or even society if we bring students to campuses and then just let them sink or swim on their own. More colleges and universities have to come up with better ways to provide institutional nourishment for the millions of students overwhelmed with juggling college coursework, expenses and the myriad other responsibilities thrown their way.
So how do we do that? U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., his colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus and even President Clinton think a good start lies in giving federal funds to student support centers at campuses across the country. And indeed, though some critics lament the legislation’s limited scope, putting the issue on the congressional table surely should spark some national deliberation on the subject.
But hopefully, the legislation will also spark some additional research into the root causes of high minority attrition rates. Because politicians — though aptly briefed and well intentioned — simply aren’t in the trenches with these students every day. Solving this problem calls for student service personnel, faculty, parents and, most importantly, the students in question to sit down and candidly discuss the roadblocks to completing a college degree.
Thirty-five million dollars in federal funds will only go so far to augment paying for textbooks, summer orientation and other bridge programs many campuses already have in place. This bill’s real promise is in the potential it has to incite scholars and other concerned researchers to find solutions.
The politicians have set the stage. It’s up to the higher education community to pull of the production of a lifetime.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com