GMU, Towson among 11 schools with no race 'gap' in graduation rate

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

George Mason University and Towson University are among 11 institutions nationwide with little or no disparity in graduation rates between black and Hispanic students and white students, a study has found.

Two reports released this week by the nonprofit Education Trust identify several other colleges in the Washington region -- including American University and the University of Maryland Baltimore County -- where black or Hispanic students are as likely to graduate as whites. George Mason and Towson join a more select group, with no graduation "gap" for either minority group.

The analysis illustrates that entrenched racial achievement gaps in college completion are not inevitable and that some colleges have managed to overcome them.

Nationally, graduation rates run 15 to 20 points lower for black and Hispanic students than for white students. But at Towson, they are nearly identical: The school's graduation rate stands at 67 percent for both white and black students and at 70 percent for Hispanics. At George Mason, 57 percent of whites graduate, compared with 59 percent of Hispanics and 63 percent of blacks.

"When you look beneath the averages, you do see that there are institutions that are beating the odds," said Jennifer Engle, who wrote the reports with Mamie Lynch.

The reports, one for each minority group, examine graduation rates at a few hundred public and private colleges with sufficient white, black and Hispanic students to conduct a statistically meaningful analysis. Graduation rates cited are three-year averages, based on federal data for 2006 through 2008.

The authors wrote that the key to eliminating achievement gaps may rest with "what colleges do with and for the students they admit."

Colleges with high minority graduation rates tend to aggressively recruit a "critical mass" of black and Hispanic students, support them with pre-collegiate preparatory programs and then cultivate a culture of academic success for the entire student body. When a college president sets minority completion "as an important goal and as a priority, that really filters down through the university," Lynch said.

George Mason benefits from a long tradition of multiculturalism, said Andrew Flagel, dean of admissions. Students come from 125 countries. The university is a known destination for minority and international students, and its pre-collegiate programs are well-established. International Week is a signature campus event.

"Almost every student who comes to Mason, no matter what their background, is going to find a cohort of students who look like them," Flagel said.

Towson has retained high minority graduation rates at a time of growing racial and socioeconomic diversity; once virtually all-white, the school's student body is 11 percent black and 2 percent Hispanic. The university accepts the top 10 percent of students from any public high school in Baltimore or Baltimore County, regardless of their SAT scores. Mentoring programs for black students have expanded to encompass all students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

"If we take you in, we're going to graduate you," said Towson President Robert Caret.

The analysis identified nine schools, in addition to George Mason and Towson, with high graduation rates for both black and Hispanic students: Georgia State University, Loyola Marymount University, Loyola University of New Orleans, Stony Brook University, Purchase College in the State University of New York system, University of California at Riverside, University of Miami, University of North Carolina at Charlotte and University of Tampa.

Several other mid-Atlantic colleges appear on EdTrust's list of schools with minimal black-white graduation gaps: Christopher Newport, Old Dominion and Radford universities in Virginia, and UMBC and Towson in Maryland. AU and Mary Baldwin College in Virginia are cited among private colleges. Graduation rates for whites and blacks at AU are one point apart: 74 percent for black students and 75 percent for white students.

Five schools in Virginia and Maryland are cited for success with Hispanics: Towson, George Mason, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth and James Madison universities.

EdTrust also identifies 25 public and 25 private colleges with the largest black-white graduation gaps, and a somewhat smaller number with the largest Hispanic-white gaps. At Wayne State University in Michigan, for example, the graduation rate is 44 percent for whites and 10 percent for blacks. Several first-rank public universities are flagged for large racial disparities, including Indiana University, the University of Iowa and the University of Illinois.

Those lists do not include any colleges in Virginia, Maryland or the District.

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