Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

College Presidents Seek to Close Minority Gap

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

College Presidents Seek to Close Minority Gap

Article excerpt

Just five months ago, the US Supreme Court decided ethnic diversity on campus was so important that selective colleges must be allowed to weigh race as one factor in a thorough admissions profile - no blunt race-based admissions formulas allowed, please. It brought cheers at the nation's elite private and public colleges and universities, where officials rejoiced that their style of admissions programs fit the ruling already.

But for some, the high court decision spotlighted another sticky question of racial equity: Just how well are colleges teaching minorities once they are admitted? Why do grades and graduation rates of minority students persistently lag those of white students?

To Borden Painter, president of Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and a group of 35 presidents of liberal arts colleges that met Friday in Boston, the "minority achievement gap" is the central issue in higher education today.

"We found, and many have, that graduation rates are lower and the overall [college] experience is less satisfying for minority students," he told the group, the Consortium on High Achievement and Success (CHAS). "So we knew, long before the Michigan decision, that we had a challenge."

At 146 competitive colleges and universities, the six-year graduation rate is more than 20 points higher for white students than black students. It is seven points higher for non-Hispanic white students than Hispanic students, the CHAS group reported.

Nationwide, among young adults with at least some college, the graduation rate for African-American students (25 percent) is 19 points lower than for white students (44 percent), it reports.

Some have attributed the gap to factors ranging from differences in academic preparation to genetics. Yet studies have also shown that even where grades and test scores are equal, minority students still may underperform. To some, this suggests institutional problems, rather than individual failure. "College leaders recognize that their campus cultures must change to effectively serve an increasingly diverse student population," says Blenda Wilson, president of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, which financially supports the CHAS group. …

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