Racial graduation gap narrows

The gap in graduation rates between Caucasian and minority students is shrinking at GW, Department of Education data show.

Experts said the existence of a gap mirrors a national trend of minority students being less likely to earn degrees, but the discrepancy between graduation rates has shrunk significantly at the University over the past decade.

“GW has pretty considerably cut that gap in half or more,” Jennifer Engle, director of higher education research and policy at the advocacy group The Education Trust, said. She called it “bigger improvement than what we’ve seen” in the organization’s studies of minority graduation in public schools.

Because graduation is measured within six years of entering college, the latest information available from the National Center for Education Statistics is from the Class of 2004.

For undergraduates, 81.6 percent of white students graduated within six years, slightly higher than the overall 80.6-percent graduation rate in 2004 .

Among black students who entered the University in 2004, 78.6 percent graduated, closing the 20-point gap that existed only a decade earlier when just 58.7 percent of enrolling black students graduated.

Hispanic students graduated in 60.6 percent of cases in 1994, a figure that rose to an all-time high of 78 percent in 2004.

Michael Tapscott, director of the Multicultural Student Services Center, attributed the shrinking gap to “improved campus climate” and a growing research on how to increase campus diversity.

“I believe that a better understanding of targeted retention resources and support systems, improved access to information for minority students, a great appreciation for retention offices that do specific engagement programming and cultural centers, and their value to the under-represented student experience will continue to diminish this gap,” he said.

The graduation rate discrepancy among races is rooted in differences in preparation, Engle said. Tapscott added that socio-economic and

psycho-emotional circumstances also influence success in college.

Minority students are less likely to have access to high-quality kindergarten through 12th grade education, Engle said.

Even similar universities can have very different numbers.

“Institutions play an important role” in determining the size of the graduation gap, Engle said. Leadership, financial aid and first-year support programs at individual universities influence minority graduation rates, she said.

The University’s minority graduation rates are a mixed bag when compared to its market basket schools, the most recent government data for all schools show.

Seventy-nine percent of black students in the Class of 2003 graduated from the University within six years, a slightly higher percentage than at New York, Boston and Syracuse universities.

Engle said GW’s 81.2 percent six-year graduation rate for the Class of 2003 and its minority graduation rates are “middle of the pack” among 25 peer institutions.

The University has seen increasing minority enrollment in the past decade.

In 2000, the University had 493 black, 822 Asian and 394 Hispanic undergraduate students, according to the Office of Institutional Research. Last fall, total undergraduate enrollment stood at 703 black, 1,007 Asian and 726 Hispanic undergraduates, the newest data show.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.