Going to college isn't the goal, earning a degree is.
More student diversity at Washington’s public colleges and universities is a positive development. But more graduates among those college students of color is really something to cheer about.
Across the nation, low-income students and students of color are heading off to college in record numbers, but they aren’t improving their graduation rates at the same pace. A new report from the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center that looked specifically at black students found a few notable exceptions. One of these exceptional schools is right here in Washington state: the University of Washington’s branch campus in Bothell.
UW Bothell is helping students of color graduate at higher rates than national averages and at nearly the same rates as their peers, according to the latest data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics for 2016.
The USC report said four other campuses also do relatively well graduating black students, when those numbers are compared to their general graduation rates: the University of Washington’s Seattle campus (74.2 percent of black students vs. 83.4 percent overall); UW Tacoma (47.5 of black students vs. 57.1 ). The Evergreen State College (48.6 percent of black students vs. 55.8 percent) and Washington State University (55.2 percent of black students vs. 65.8 percent) also do a pretty good job of graduating black students, but UW Bothell is better (65.9 of black students vs. 67.9 overall). Eastern, Central and Western Washington universities have the worst black-student graduation rates when compared to the general graduation rates at Washington universities, despite improvement in black-student enrollment at those institutions. Those rates are 30.6 vs. 45.9 percent at Eastern, 37.4 vs 52.2 percent at Central, and 54.6 vs. 70.4 percent at Western.
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UW Bothell’s numbers are impressive. The latest national data shows 61 percent of white students at public 4-year universities earn a bachelor’s degree in six years, while 52 percent of Hispanic students graduate, and 41 percent of African-American students earn a diploma. UW Bothell’s graduation rate for Hispanic students is 58 percent. What’s most impressive about UW Bothell’s numbers is the fact that half of its students are the first person from his or her family to go to college, while nationally only a third of public-college students are first-generation.
The head of the department that includes the college’s Student Success Center says the work UW Bothell is doing to improve graduation rates for students of color is helping all its students succeed.
Most UW Bothell students are commuters. They skew older than the average undergrad. And nearly all have other stresses in their lives beyond getting to class on time and keeping up with homework.
In addition to academic tutoring common at most colleges, UW Bothell smartly reaches out directly to struggling students. The college is piloting an “early warning system” that alerts counselors when a student is missing class or has done poorly on homework assignments or tests. The counselors ask the students what help they need. Often, something other than school work is the issue, according to Cinnamon Hillyard, associate vice chancellor for undergraduate learning.
The college is building up its funds for student-emergency loans, because last-minute expenses can derail college dreams. UW Bothell has opened a food bank on campus. They’re experimenting with new ways of sharing crucial information with students, such as text messages and the campus “Bathroom Stall Times.” They hold financial aid form pizza parties. And they’re trying out new ways to integrate their commuter students into the campus culture and clubs.
UW Bothell has a package of interventions that is moving the needle toward graduation. Other colleges and universities should emulate the “early warning system,” in particular. For the sake of their students, and the employers who need college graduates, every school must improve its graduation rates. The college experience isn’t about campus life; it’s about earning a degree.