College graduation rates are improving for all students, but minority student rates continue to lag behind those for white students, according to a new national report that highlights efforts at Washington State University to close the gap.
First, the good news: Among Washington’s four-year public universities, graduation rates are going up, and the graduation rate for minority students has improved on almost every campus.
In fact, one of the nation’s leaders in improving graduation rates for minority students is Washington State University, according to a national report released this week by The Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy group that focuses on students of color or those living in poverty.
The bad news: There’s still a significant gap in graduation rates between students of color and white students.
The nonprofit’s report, “Rising Tide: Do College Grad Rate Gains Benefit All Students?’ highlights graduation rates for underrepresented minorities — African-American, Latino and Native American students — and compared those rates to what’s happened with white students.
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“They are certainly improvements to celebrate, but they are not enough to close gaps in completion anytime this century,” the report said. Nationwide, “a 14-percentage-point gap in completion remains between underrepresented and white students.”
The gap in graduation rates between white and minority students ranges from a low of 3.4 percentage points (at Central Washington University) to a high of 12.7 percentage points (at Western Washington University).
WSU was flagged as one of the nation’s standouts at whittling down that gap. WSU had a 13 percentage point improvement in minority student graduation between 2003 and 2013. A decade ago, only 47.5 percent of WSU’s underrepresented minority students graduated; in 2013, that number was 60.5 percent.
The graduation rate for white students at WSU has also gone up, the report said, so the gap has narrowed because there have been larger gains among underrepresented minority students.
The report highlights how WSU reached out to students of color, creating a campus community that encouraged success for all, and made students of color feel welcome. “It’s not just asking students to prepare themselves to come to college,” said Manuel Acevedo, director of multicultural student services at WSU, told the Education Trust. It’s also “the institution preparing itself to meet the students’ needs. So the burden and that preparation is not just on the students — it’s also on the institution.”
“When you’re working with this population, you have to be very intentional,” Lucila Loera, the university’s assistant vice president for the Office of Access, Equity and Achievement, said in a statement. “It’s not just, we’ll build it and they will come. It’s one thing to get students in the door…but it’s another thing for them to thrive and have an enriching educational experience.”
The report also praised the work of former WSU President Elson Floyd, the school’s first black president. Floyd died this summer of complications from colon cancer.
The school with the best graduation rate for underrepresented minorities in 2013 was the University of Washington Seattle, where 72.4 percent graduated. That was up 10.7 percentage points, from 61.7 percent, in 2003.
Other schools that made progress closing the gap included Central Washington University (from a 39.8 percent graduation rate for minorities in 2003 to 51.3 percent in 2013) and Western Washington University (from 49.6 percent in 2003 to 59 percent in 2013). Eastern Washington University saw a very slight improvement (from 34.4 percent in 2003 to 36.2 percent in 2013), and the number declined at The Evergreen State College (from 45.1 percent in 2003 to 43.5 percent in 2013).
The report went on to say that “even with the improvements seen this last decade, underrepresented students still are not graduating at the same rate as white students were 10 years ago.” That was true on all of Washington’s public college campuses, too, according to the report.