Post Your Job Openings on
E-mail Alerts
Advertise Here

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education

HomeJobsAboutAuthor GuidelinesAd RatesWeb Ad Rates
Latest News

News & Views


Faculty Positions

Book Reviews

Test Your Knowledge

Affirmative Action Timeline

Vital Statistics

Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor
The Race Relations Reporter


Charles Hamilton Houston quote

  News & Views

College Graduation Rates:
Where Black Students Do the Best and Where They Fare Poorly Compared to Their White Peers

Through the years, JBHE has closely examined black student graduation rates at our nation’s highest-ranked colleges and universities. We have also reported extensively on the racial gap in graduation rates at these institutions.

Here is data showing the largest and smallest racial gaps in graduation rates among thousands of less selective institutions.

Black enrollments in higher education are at an all-time high. But nationwide the black student college graduation rate remains dismally low, at a level of about 45 percent. The black student college graduation rate is about 20 percentage points lower than the rate for whites.

There are many reasons for the low college graduation rate of African Americans and the large black-white gap in college completions:

• Clearly, the racial climate at some colleges and universities can affect black persistence and graduation rates. If black students do not feel welcome or if they experience any sort of racial harassment or discrimination, they will likely drop out of that particular institution.

• Many black students who enroll in college are not adequately prepared for college-level curriculum. Poor preparation in K-12 education leaves many black students without a sufficient academic foundation to succeed in college. Poor grades then lead to frustration which increases the likelihood that these students will drop out.

• Many black students come from families that have no tradition of higher education. There can be a lack of necessary support and understanding for nurturing the black student’s effort to succeed in higher education.

• But, undoubtedly, the most important factor is money. JBHE research has shown that two thirds of all blacks who drop out of college do so for financial reasons. Many black students decide they do not want to build up large debts. Others see financial aid awards reduced after their first year in school and do not want to assume additional expenses. At times, increases in tuition, fees, and the price of textbooks push the cost of education too high for black students. Some black students drop out because they need to enter the work force to help support their families. Others who have tried to work while going to college find that undertaking both tasks simultaneously is too difficult and, so, many of these students will drop out of college.

Given the importance of higher education relative to future earnings and career prospects, it is necessary for college-bound black students to have as much information as possible concerning their chances of success at particular colleges and universities.

In past reports JBHE has identified some colleges and universities often rated among the best academically in the nation that have eliminated the racial gap in graduation rates. In 2008 Grinnell College in Iowa, Smith College in Massachusetts, and Wake Forest University in North Carolina all had a black student graduation rate that was higher than the school’s graduation rate for white students. At Wellesley, the highly rated women’s college in Massachusetts, black and white students graduate at the same high rate of 92 percent.

At several other top-rated colleges and universities, including Harvard, Vanderbilt, and Davidson, the black student graduation rate is very high and is only one percentage point below the rate for whites.

But these high-ranking colleges and universities enroll only a tiny percentage of African-American college students. Therefore, it is useful to examine where black students do well, compared to their white peers, in graduating from the nation’s thousands of colleges and universities that are not rated among the academically top tier institutions. It is most important that college-bound black students know of the colleges and universities where their African-American peers have not done so well in completing their bachelor’s degree programs. For all college-bound blacks it is important to know where they stand a good chance of success and where they are more likely to fail.

JBHE has retrieved graduation rate statistics from Department of Education databases on thousands of colleges and universities in the United States not ranked among the 30 highest-ranked universities and 30 highest-ranked liberal arts colleges. The vast majority of the colleges and universities have racial gaps in graduation rates that are in the range of the national averages.

But JBHE has found dozens of colleges and universities where black students actually graduate at higher rates than do white students. (See table below.) And there are many more colleges and universities nationwide where the black student graduation rate is the same as the rate for white students.

The widest racial gap in graduation rates in favor of blacks occurs at Southern Vermont College in Bennington. There, the black graduation rate of 56 percent is 23 percentage points higher than the rate for white students. But this good news is diminished by the fact that there are only about 25 black students enrolled at the college.

At Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, the black student graduation rate is 56 percent. This is 16 percentage points higher than the rate for whites. But at Pine Manor, unlike the situation at Southern Vermont College, there are large numbers of black students who are enrolled. Blacks make up 41 percent of the undergraduate enrollments at Pine Manor College. Clearly, the large percentage of black students on campus makes Pine Manor a welcome place for African Americans. This undoubtedly is a factor in the high retention and graduation rates.

All told, JBHE research has found 15 colleges and universities where the black student graduation rate is at least 10 percentage points higher than the rate for white students. At some of these schools there are very few black students. But at schools such as Kennesaw State University, Stony Brook University, and the State University of New York at Old Westbury, blacks make up significant percentages of the student body, and they graduate at a rate that is at least 10 percentage points higher than white students.

There are another 21 colleges and universities where the black student graduation rate is at least 5 percentage points higher than the rate for whites. In this group there are several schools with large numbers of black students. These include Georgia State University, Winthrop University, and Agnes Scott College. Blacks make up at least 20 percent of the total enrollments at these schools.

Overall, JBHE research has identified more than 100 colleges and universities where blacks graduate at a rate equal to or higher than whites. Of particular note are those schools where blacks have not only eliminated the racial gap but also graduate at a rate of 75 percent or more. This is 30 percentage points higher than the national average. These schools with high black student graduation rates and where the racial gaps in graduation rates have been eliminated include Lewis & Clark College, St. Lawrence University, Transylvania University, Centre College, St. Michaels College, Wofford College, Babson College, Elms College, and Gettysburg College.

There are several large state-operated universities where black students graduate at rates equal to or higher than those of whites. These include Florida State University, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the University of Maryland Baltimore County, East Carolina University, the University of Albany, and the University of South Florida.

At Florida State, the university established the Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (CARE) program in an effort to boost minority student retention and graduation rates. Under this program, students in public schools near the Florida State campus are recruited as early as the sixth grade. Officials from CARE meet with students and parents and build a relationship. After-school and summer programs are offered to help students prepare for college. For students who decide to go to Florida State, a summer bridge program is available to ease the transition. Once enrolled, CARE assists students by offering tutors. Students who are doing poorly are required to attend tutoring sessions in an effort to improve their grades. About two thirds of all CARE students are African Americans.

The Other Extreme: Colleges and Universities With Huge Racial Gaps in Graduation Rates

It is also valuable for college-bound blacks to know the colleges and universities that have been unable to eliminate huge racial gaps in graduation rates. At some of these schools race relations may not be cordial and blacks may not feel welcome. As a result, many black students transfer or drop out of school altogether.

JBHE has found more than 80 colleges and universities where the black graduation rate is at least 25 percentage points lower than the graduation rate of white students at the particular school. (See table below.) At six colleges and universities the racial gap is more than 40 percentage points!

The largest racial gap is at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia. There, black students graduate at a rate of 20 percent. This is 48 percentage points below the rate for whites. Perhaps black students at the university feel uncomfortable in a Catholic, overwhelmingly white college environment. But only 2 percent of the 1,200 undergraduate students at the university are black.

Yet at Gwynedd-Mercy College in suburban Philadelphia, 16 percent of the 2,000 undergraduate students are black. And there, black students graduate at a rate that is 44 percentage points below the rate for whites.

At Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, blacks are 32 percent of the 21,000-member undergraduate student body. But only 10 percent of black students go on to graduate compared to 44 percent of white students.

As stated previously, JBHE research has shown that the major reason why blacks drop out of college is money. So at many of these schools with huge black-white gaps in graduation rates, a great number of black students may have unmet financial need. But a large graduation rate gap may also mean that blacks simply do not feel comfortable on the particular campus. This can be caused by poor race relations among students, a lack of cultural and social activities geared toward African Americans, or a surrounding community that is inhospitable to blacks or that offers no cultural amenities to the African-American community. Blacks on these campuses with large racial gaps in graduation rates may simply decide to complete their college education elsewhere.

Clearly, many factors enter into a black student’s decision as to where to go to college. But it is important to consider not only the graduation rate at a specific school but also the racial gap in graduation rates between blacks and whites. It is not unreasonable for prospective black students to ask admissions officers at a particular college what is being done to raise black graduation rates and to reduce the racial gap between blacks and whites.