Black and Hispanic GW students are less likely than whites to graduate in six years, according to Department of Education data. GW also had the largest gap between six-year graduation rates for white students and black and Hispanic students among D.C. colleges that reported complete statistics in 2002-03.
Compared to the 77.5 percent of white GW students who graduated within six years, 61.3 percent of black students and 63.9 percent of Hispanic students graduated during the same period of time.
“I think it’s cause for concern,” said Kevin Carey, director of policy research for the Education Trust, a non-profit research and advocacy group. “It’s important that a commitment to diversity extends to graduation, not just admission.”
Carey said GW should look to other universities to become “equally successful in helping all groups succeed.” At other D.C. higher education institutions and similarly sized schools across the country, six-year graduation rates for white and minority students are more equitable.
According to the government, GW has the largest gap in rates among all D.C. colleges except Catholic University, which did not report complete statistics. The education department did not report complete information on racial differences in four-year graduation rates.
At American University, the rate for white students was 73.4 percent, 10.5 percentage points higher than the six-year graduation rate for black students and 8.1 points lower than the Hispanic six-year graduation rate.
At New York University, 77.1 percent of white students graduate within six years, along with 71.1 percent of blacks and 66.8 percent of Hispanics.
Donald Lehman, GW’s executive vice president for Academic Affairs, declined to comment Friday on the data, which he said he had not seen.
In addition to numbers indicating a disparity between graduation rates, data released by GW Thursday shows overall four-year graduation rates for students who entered in fall 2000 at 66.2 percent, down 2.1 percentage points from the previous class.
Overall, graduation rates have risen consistently over the last 10 years. A decade ago, six-year graduation rates at GW were in the mid-60 percent range, Lehman said. Last year’s overall six-year graduation rate was 75.1 percent.
“It looks like we’re on a stronger, more positive trend, and we still have a ways to go,” Lehman said. “I think we’ve made very significant progress in retaining our students and making sure they graduate in a timely fashion.”
He said one of the reasons that roughly one-third of students do not graduate in four years is that time-consuming activities, such as internships and study abroad, are popular at GW.
He also said student transfers hurt the school’s graduation rates, and said that a relatively small endowment prevents GW from keeping many students by offering competitive financial aid.
“Financial aid needs of families change over time and sometimes our financial aid department can’t afford to keep up with those changes,” he said. “Institutions like GW don’t have unlimited resources.”
Carey, of the Education Trust, said post-secondary schools have focused largely on admissions rates instead of graduation rates.
“(Graduation) is not an issue that institutions have paid all that much attention to,” he said. “Financial incentives that govern priorities are focused more on enrollment than graduation.”
He added that GW’s average graduation rates are comparable to those of similar schools.
“If you compare GW to 25 or 30 similar institutions, they’re right in the middle – some higher, some lower,” he said.
The price tag of college education can also make it difficult for students to graduate within four years.
“Affordability is an issue,” Carey said. “Students still go to school but they try to work at the same time. Full-time students who try to work full-time tend to graduate at a lower rate.”
Senior Scott Liftman, who spent three semesters and one summer abroad, said he will easily be able to graduate in four years at the end of spring semester.
“If you come here with an idea of what you want to do it makes it a lot easier,” he said. “If you take at least 15 credits a semester that’s all it takes to graduate in four years.”
Liftman said many of the students who spend more than four years at GW have either transferred to the school or switched majors.
Junior Elliot Schottland said students are often unable to register for required classes and end up graduating late.
“I think it’s somewhat difficult to graduate within four years,” he said. “You have to take a lot of initiative to make sure you’re up to par with your requirements.”