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Achievement Gap Persists In African-American Graduation Rates

Soyoung Kim |
March 5, 2011 | 1:47 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

The good news is that the number of African-American students enrolling in higher education has reached an all-time high. The bad news is that many, especially black men, are not finishing their degrees. 

(Soyoung Kim)
(Soyoung Kim)

Today, 55 percent of African-American high school seniors go on to college, which is up 10 percent from the 1970s, Chauntel Riser, coordinator of the African-American Resource Center at California State University Fullerton, said.

But of those going to college, only 43 percent are graduating, which is 20 percent lower than the graduation rate of white students. It’s even more alarming for black men, with only 35 percent who enter college finishing, Riser said.

“We are in a crisis across the country especially with African-American males. There are not a lot of African-American males going to college and even fewer are graduating,” Christina Lunceford, assistant director of the Center for Research on Education Access and Leadership at CSUF, said.

Panelists at the Community Dialogue Event hosted by CSUF’s African-American Resource center on Thursday discussed the topic of African-American Students in higher education.

The panel was composed of faculty and graduate students from CSUF. Many said that the college retention of African-American students was a larger cultural issue. Many African-American college students are the first generation to attend college from their families and often times feel isolated on a college campus setting, Julie Stokes, director of the African-American Resource Center and Professor at CSUF said.

Although African-American students have the same academic ability to graduate as the general student pool, many do not see the importance in graduating, Riser said. And they do not have the support system necessary to advise them on how to get through college.

“So it’s not that they don’t want to, they just don’t know how to graduate,” Riser said.

Fewer than 1,000 African-American students attend CSUF, out of a total enrollment of more than 36,000.

Ricky Barrett, a graduate student at CSUF, said “seeing someone who looks like you” following the same path is inspiring. He said that mentorship was a key factor in helping him graduate from college to pursue a Master’s degree.

“Just being able to connect with someone like me that is successful and showing me how they became successful is a major thing,” Barrett said.

Riser agreed that seeing familiar faces aids a student’s ability to be encouraged and move forward. Feeling like there is a place to relate is important, she said.

Creating a sense of belonging is crucial, said Vita Jones, Professor of Education at CSUF. “Once they are in college, they often don’t have a parent or uncle to call to help them sort out their problems and teaching them about paperwork and financial aid deadlines,” Jones said. “Just all the things that go along with attending college need to be demystified for them.”

In the last few years there has been an increased awareness of poor African-American student achievement at a national level, but there is a lack of commitment, Stokes said. The lack of funding and resources has made it difficult to see any significant improvements with the situation.

A very closely related statistic to African-American male achievement in schools is incarceration, Gerald Bryant, director of the McNair program at CSUF, said, because most of the African-American males that get arrested or end up in jail are high-school drop-outs. Twenty years ago, 1 in 4 African-American males were arrested or ended up in jail; today, the numbers have increased to 1 in 3.

Bryant said that African-American males were the most researched population on the planet, but there is very little commitment to help improving their situation.

All the panelists agreed that there is not enough being done to help the situation get better quickly enough.

Statistics suggest that the achievement gap between white students and students of color remains as wide as ever, Lunceford said. While the numbers are improving for the students of color, so are the numbers for the white students.

“The sad thing is at the last achievement gap forum I attended, the panel was talking about the exact same things they did in the 70s and 80s. Nothing has changed, the numbers look the same, so it’s frustrating, Lunceford said. “I wonder when the numbers are going to become so drastic that they can not ignore it anymore.”

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