The Persisting Racial Gap in College Graduation Rates at Flagship State Universities

The nation’s flagship state universities have done an impressive job in increasing the graduation rates of their students. So too, many of the nation’s flagship state universities have also been successful in improving the graduation rates of their Black students.

For example, the graduation rate of Black students at Ohio State University in 2008 was 52 percent. Today it is 74 percent. At the University of Wisconsin, the Black student graduation rate has improved by 20 percentage points during the same period.

But despite impressive progress at many flagship state universities, the racial gap in graduation rates persists at all flagships universities in states with large Black populations. In some states the racial gap is huge.

At 21 flagship state universities in states with large Black populations, 15 have a racial graduation rate gap of 10 or more percentage points. The widest gap is at the Univerity of Mississippi. There, the Black graduation rate of 42 percent is 23 percentage points below the rate for White students. Pennsylvania State University has a Black student graduation rate of 70 percent. This is significantly higher than the nationwide Black student college graduation rate. Yet, there is still a large 18 percentage point gap between the graduation rates of Black and White students.

Among this group of flagship state universities in states with large Black populations, the smallest racial gap in graduation rates was at the University of Georgia. There, 83 percent of Black students graduate within six years of entering, compared to 87 percent of White students. At the University of Virginia and the University of South Carolina, the racial gap is only 5 percentage points.

Note: Graduation rates in the table below are four-year averages. The rates reflect the percentage of students entering the university who earn a bachelor’s degree within six years at the same institution.

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