Education Sector, an independent research group, released a report today [PDF] that said while there is a staggeringly large gap between the graduation rates of black and white students, the gap is relatively easy to close.
Florida State University has been particularly successful in closing this gap–it is the only institution of its size and type where black students graduate at a higher rate than white students. FSU’s success is due in part to its Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (CARE), which starts identifying potential students as early as the sixth grade, using counsellors and summer programs to help guide the students through the application process into college, and onward through graduation.
Education Sector found that most of the problem had to do with not paying attention to the students. When students were left to fend for themselves, they tended to do poorly and drop out; those students who were helped by mentors and counsellors tended to remain in school. This did not translate to coddling students or lowering standards, but rather increasing the quality of the teaching and the engagement of the students, as stated by the National Survey of Student Engagement:
Although African American students at the lowest levels of engagement were less likely to persist than their White counterparts, as their engagement increased to within about one standard deviation below the mean, they had about the same probability of returning as Whites. As African American student engagement reached the average amount, they became more likely than White students to return for a second year (link, pg 8).
The report suggests a few policy changes to close the graduation gap. Such changes include changing the rankings published by U.S. New and World Report to include graduation gaps instead of just graduation rates; improve the measures of graduation rates; improve accountability systems; and move back to need-based financial aid.