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College graduation gap in Mich. a story of OK, bad, and just plain terrible

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Six-year graduation rates for African Americans lower than for whites, says Education Trust

A new report from advocacy group The Education Trust shows a large gap in six-year university graduation rates between African-American students and white students.

The Education Trust is a national non-profit advocacy organization that promotes high academic achievement for all students at all levels, particularly for students of color and low-income students.

The report says only about four in 10, or 41% of black students who start college as first-time, full-time freshmen earn bachelor’s degrees from those institutions within six years — a rate 22 percentage points below that of their white peers.

In Michigan, there are some universities that are beating that average — and some that are doing dismally worse.

At the University of Michigan's flagship campus in Ann Arbor, 79.2% of black students graduated within six years in 2012, 2013, and 2014, compared to 91.9% of white students.  That's a 12.6% gap, about half the national average.  Enrollment of African Americans was 4.9% of the total student body.

But at the same university's Flint campus, six-year graduation rates for both white and black students was very low.  Only 22.2% of black students graduated from UM-Flint within 6 years, and only 39.1% of white students achieved the same.

Laurence Technological University in Southfield had the biggest racial gap of all universities in Michigan.  A mere 13.7% of black students were able to graduate within six years.  That contrasts starkly with the 60.8% of white students who graduated within six years.  The percentage of black students enrolled at LTU was 11.5% between 2012 and 2014.

Lawrence Tech Provost Maria Vaz says the university is aware of the gap and working hard to improve the situation.  She says black students drop out before graduation for a combination of financial and family reasons, which they're trying to address.

"Many of our minority students are commuter students from the Detroit area, instead of being residential students," Vaz said in an emailed statement. "As it is well known, the graduation rate of commuter students is lower than that of residential students."

Vaz says the university is trying to address that by transitioning the campus to more of a residential campus by building new dorms,  so black students will have more success if they live on campus.

She says LTU has also begun outreach programs, including one at a middle school and high school in the Detroit public school system that offers early intervention academic programs — as well as half-off tuition scholarships for students wishing to attend LTU.  From the statement:

"We hope by meeting and encouraging students earlier in their careers, we will be able to increase the number of students at LTU from underrepresented populations that are prepared for higher education and to attend Lawrence Tech.  Our goal is to increase not only the number of interested students but also to enroll them and to graduate them."

Wayne State University had one of the worst graduation rates for African American students in the country, with only 11.1% managing to get a degree in six years.  That compares to 44.3% of white students.  Thirty-seven percent of students during the time period of the study were African-American.


Education Trust says it doesn't have to be this way.  From the report:

Many will argue that differences in graduation rates are caused by differences in student preparation and other factors that are outside an institution’s control. For years though, we have shown that argument to be false.
Similar colleges serving similar students can produce vastly different outcomes, proving that what institutions do with the students they enroll is absolutely critical.

Meanwhile, Grand Valley State University is significantly beating the national average for six-year graduation rates for its African American students.  57.4% of African American students earned a degree within six years, compared to 67.6% for white students — a 10.1% gap.  5.9% of the students enrolled at GVSU during the study period were African-American.

The tiny religious college Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, is one of only 28 colleges in the country with a higher six-year graduation rate among African American students compared to white students — 61.3% versus 60.4%.  Andrews is the flagship university of the Seventh Day Adventist school system.  22.4% of the student body was African-American during the study period.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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