A recent report from The Education Trust looks to answer the question of whether progress is being made in terms of closing learning gaps that are putting students of color at a disadvantage.
The report, titled “Rising Tide: Do College Grad Rate Gains Benefit All Students?“, was completed in an effort to explore the change in six-year graduation rates over the last decade among first-time, full-time students attending four-year public institutions.
Researchers discovered that graduation rates for African American, Latino, and Native American students have increased by 13 percentage points over the last 10 years. While the graduation rate for white students also saw an increase, the rate for underrepresented minority students saw the most improvement, cutting the graduation rate gap between these students and white students in half. That difference amounted to 14 percentage points in 2003.
“It’s not just asking students to prepare themselves to come to college,” said Manuel Acevedo, the director of multicultural student services at Washington State University, “but the institution preparing itself to meet the students’ needs. So the burden and that preparation is not just on the students — it’s also on the institution.”
The school was recognized in the report as a national leader of graduation rate improvement not only for underrepresented students but overall as well.
UW-Madison was also one of 26 institutions highlighted for their hard work at increasing both of these graduation rates, writes Kari Knutson for The University of Wisconsin-Madison News.
Earlier this year, the school announced that its four-year graduation rate had risen to 60.3%, up from last year’s high of 57.1%. The six-year graduation rate also saw an increase, going from 84.8% last year to 85.1%, marking the first time in the history of the school, dating back 167 years, that the rate had gone above 85%.
Data was examined for 489 public and 820 private nonprofit colleges and universities between 2003 and 2013, finding that, on average, graduation rates rose from 56% to 59.4%. More improvements were seen at larger public institutions that have higher enrollments. While graduation rates at public universities were found to have increased by 4.9 percentage points, private institutions only generated a rise of 2.3 percentage points.
However, a uniform rise was not seen across all universities studied. While some made progress, others stayed at almost the same rate they showed 10 years ago. Others were found to have lower completion rates.
The researchers suggest that more attention must be paid by policymakers and institutional leaders alike to who would benefit from an increased focus on completion. According to their data, the authors believe that overall institutional improvement does not always mean academic gains for underrepresented students that would translate to being equal to their white peers, or even begin to close existing educational gaps.
They say that in order for that to happen, deliberate action must be taken by each individual university, much like what has happened at Washington State over the last 25 years. Lucila Loera, assistant vice president for the Office for Access, Equity, and Achievement at WSU, suggests that downward trends must be spotted within the data, and then faculty, staff, and students should be pushed to identify ways to help all students succeed.
“It’s one thing to get students in the door,” Loera said, “but it’s another thing for them to thrive and have an enriching educational experience.”