UMN receives low score on black student graduation rates

Universities across the country were graded on black student equity in a recent study.

by Megan Palmer

In a recent study on black students’ representation and performance in comparison to their peers at public colleges, the University of Minnesota performed above average in most categories but earned a failing grade for black student six-year graduation rates.

In the study, the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center examined public universities across the country and gave letter grades based on four categories: the number of black students at the university compared to black peers in that state aged 18 – 24, gender equity within the black student population, six-year graduation rates and the black-student-to-black-faculty ratio.

Black undergraduate students at the University who graduated within six years from 2013 to 2016 had a 58.1 percent graduate rate, while the overall six-year student graduation rate was 77.3 percent, earning the University an “F” grade in the category of completion equity.The University earned above average grades for the other categories.

Robert McMaster, the University’s vice provost for undergraduate education, said this data does not show the full picture.

“[The] data was cut off where we made a fair amount of progress,” he said. For African-American students who graduated within six years in 2016 and 2017, the rate jumped from 63.4 percent to 75.3 percent, according to McMaster.

The study’s data doesn’t account for the number of students at each school, and neglects to emphasize high graduation rates. Instead, the study focuses on the disparity between graduation rates of African-American students and general students, McMaster said.

Akua Tieku, a senior studying strategic communication, said the University’s “F” grade didn’t reflect her personal experience at the University. As a transfer student from Michigan State University, Tieku said making sure she graduated on time was a priority.

“My advisor has been a big help, making sure I have what I need … making sure my courses transferred,” Tieku said.

USC’s Race and Equity Center made the report to show how inequities in higher education are indicative of larger societal issues. The findings are meant to identify areas where universities could improve and to help inform black students, college faculty and policymakers about the state of public colleges and universities across the country.

The University of Minnesota – Morris was ranked fourth in the country overall for black student equity, according to the study.

Morris’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Sandra Olson-Loy, said this is due to the campus’s commitment to serving underrepresented communities.

“[We] have great opportunities for students to connect with one another in student organizations, campus programs and with faculty members,” Olson-Loy said.

She said the school still has progress to make.

“The numbers of students that we have on campus is a relatively small population, so even though we’re ranking really high on this survey, we are not satisfied with the enrollment number for African-American students,” Olson-Loy said.

The University of Minnesota – Morris had 32 black students enrolled in 2016, according to the study.

In an effort to improve retention and graduation rates, McMaster said the University has several initiatives in place, including the President’s Emerging Scholars program, which focuses on supporting students by providing scholarships, mentoring and workshops.

McMaster said there are also Living Learning Communities specifically geared toward African-American students and University programs allocating additional scholarship money to provide better financial aid packages for students of color.

“We don’t want gaps, but they’re there for complicated and historical reasons,” McMaster said of the data in the study. “Our goal is to, as best we can, continue to narrow and eliminate these gaps as we move forward in the next few years.”