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Report Scrutinizes Colleges With Low Graduation Rates, Including MSIs

Less than 60 percent of new students graduate from the nation’s four-year colleges and universities within six years, according to a new study, and the rate is even lower at most of the historically Black and Hispanic-serving institutions included in the study.

  The report being released today, “Diplomas and Dropouts: Which Colleges Actually Graduate Their Students (and Which Don’t),” by the American Enterprise Institute used federally reported data from the 2001 entering class to compare graduation rates between institutions of similar standing, based on student selectivity as classified by Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges. The data do not include transfer students.

Within similarly classified schools, graduation rates varied vastly. The researchers contend these schools are admitting students with similar levels of preparedness and suggest that the practices of the schools themselves factor prominently in student success.  

According to the report, noncompetitive institutions graduate, on average, 35 percent of their students, while competitive institutions graduate 88 percent. Less competitive and competitive schools do better than noncompetitive institutions, but the average graduation rate is less than 50 percent. The higher graduation rates among competitive schools is to be expected because they’re admitting highly talented students.

However, it’s important for prospective students and parents to be aware of the disparities among similar schools when picking a school, researchers say. President Obama’s stated goal of improving completion rates warrants a look at what schools need to do a better job of graduating their students, they add.

“We do not encourage schools to give out degrees indiscriminately,” said Mark Schneider, a scholar at AEI. “[The graduation crisis] should be part of the decision making process.”

Disparities in graduation rates noted by researchers include the University of Louisville in Kentucky and James Madison University in Virginia, both very competitive state schools that charge about $7,000 in tuition. While Louisville only graduates 44 percent of its students in six years, James Madison graduates 81 percent.

Out of the 78 historically Black colleges and universities listed in the report, 67 of those institutions have a graduation rate below 50 percent.

Arkansas Baptist College and Concordia College, noncompetitive private historically Black colleges, ranked in the top 10 of their category, graduating 100 percent and 97 percent, respectively, of their students. However, Southern University at New Orleans and Jarvis Christian Colleges in Texas ranked in the bottom 10 in the noncompetitive category, graduating eight and 10 percent of their students, respectively.

Dr. McNair Ramsey, the president of Concordia College in Selma, Ala., attributed the college’s high graduation rate to the hands-on individual counseling for students who enter the college.

“The various chairpersons, tutors and academic advisors meet on a regular basis in reference to their programs making sure students stay on task,” Ramsey said. “Both professors and counselors do so in order to make sure there is great success in terms of the graduation rate. We’re not going to change. We are going to continue to improve and enhance that.”

The 52 Hispanic-serving institutions included in the report in states such as California, Texas, Florida and New Mexico also have, on average, graduation rates below 50 percent.

Dwayne Ashley, president and chief executive officer of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said he is not surprised by the report.  He said there are a lot of factors that must be taken into consideration when looking at the data, such as students socioeconomic background. Many students are distracted from academic responsibilities by fulltime work to pay for college.  

 “[Students] work and go to college,” he said. “They do not want to come out with a lot of debt.”

He said overall HBCUs do well, but researchers must take into account the legacy of slavery, inequalities in K-12 schooling and a student’s socioeconomic background.

“Students must select the right educational culture,” he said.  “Students have to make sure they select the right university that fits their needs and provide a nurturing environment.”

Ashley said innovative partnerships need to be established to bridge the gap between pre-kindergarten and 12th grade. 

For instance, the Center for Innovative HBCU School Reform Partnerships, a division of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, was established in 2003 to close student academic achievement gaps and increase college readiness, preparation and college-going rates among minority students at secondary schools.

“There is a challenge in [closing] the academic achievement gap,” Ashley said.  “We are right there with the president and the administration.”

“By 2020,” President Obama promised, “America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”

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