Study Finds Colleges Can Share the Blame for the Racial Gap in Graduation Rates

A new study by researchers at New York University, Florida State University, and Southern Methodist University finds that more than 60 percent of the racial gap in college completion rates may be attributed to factors that occur before college. Therefore, in many cases, colleges and universities have their hands tied in efforts to reduce the racial gap.

Stella M. Flores, associate professor of higher education at New York University and the study’s lead author, said that “our findings demonstrate that these disparities can often be traced back to high school, suggesting that colleges and universities are not solely responsible for the racial gap in graduation rates.”

The researchers analyzed data from kindergarten through college completion for all public school students in one of the nation’s largest and most diverse states: Texas. They focused on one cohort of students who graduated from high school in 2002, entered a four-year institution that fall, and graduated college within six years by 2008. As expected, six-year college completion rates varied by race: 65.5 percent for White students and 43.6 percent for Black students.

Furthermore, the authors found that pre-college characteristics – a combination of individual, academic, and high school context factors – contributed upward of 61 percent of the total variance for Black students as compared with their White counterparts.

The study, “The Racial College Completion Gap: Evidence From Texas,” was published on the website of the Journal of Higher Education. Co-authors are Toby J. park of Florida State University and Dominique J. Baker of Southern Methodist University. The article may be accessed here.

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  1. This article continues to validate decades of retention and completion research regarding the failure across all institutions in preparing students for postsecondary success. The issue, however, is whether colleges and universities have the wherewithal to do what is necessary to help first generation and/or minority students succeed when admitted to their respective institutions. Access is one thing, but success depends on both student and institutional input working synergistically to achieve the desired outcomes.

  2. Unfortunately, this study supports the practice of limiting access to higher education to those the institutions believe have the best odds for completion. There are many significant mitigating factors that contribute to attrition. College climate studies show that students of color face unrelenting microaggressions at every educational level contributing to the erosion of confidence and inclusion. Combine with the appalling lack of faculty diversity and the inevitable anger that comes from understanding the history they were taught in school was all a lie. It is no surprised that higher education isn’t prepared to support these students.

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