Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education
A Missing Element in the Retention Discussion. (Last Word)
The current concem about graduation rates in higher education and especially among minority students in historically Black colleges and universities is not without warrant given the high economic costs and the incalculable social costs of low retention. The recently reported trend toward increased college entrance rates among minority students brings little comfort when viewed alongside the retention statistics. Nationwide, the five-year graduation rate barely exceeds 50 percent of those entering four-year colleges and universities. The figure for Black students is more than 10 percentage points lower.
In discussions about the disparity between minority and White retention rates, politicians and academicians alike, have typically focused on levels of college preparedness, socioeconomic differences, and social interaction and adjustment as causes of minority students' low graduation rates. Consequently, attempts to foster equal opportunity have focused on policies that provide economic aid to minority students and student support services that seek to improve the interpersonal aspects of college life. A few proposals such as career planning assistance and various forms of instructional enrichment have sought to address the academic and intellectual aspects of students' college experiences. These measures, however, reflect what might be called a "deficiency model" in the problem of minority retention. They suggest that minority students are deficient in areas that are critical to persistence in college.
However, no one, in this culture of blind-faith testing, has questioned the validity of the assessment strategies used to tell students whether they are succeeding, and to make decisions about whether students are allowed to progress to higher levels. Those of us who teach, know that there is no greater determinant of a student's perception of her/his own ability to succeed than the feedback which assessment provides. Low GPAs have been cited as one of the primary reasons why students leave college prematurely. In the deficiency model, low grades mean, at best, that the student has not learned the essentials of the course but often get interpreted to mean that the student cannot learn the essentials, either because she/he does not have the ability, or has not had the necessary preparation. …