University concerned about low graduation rates

Kelly Petryszyn

6-year numbers show minorities are struggling

Credit: DKS Editors

One in two Kent State students will graduate from the university within six years, according to data from Research, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness.

That makes the overall six-year graduation rate 50 percent for the 2003 cohort – the incoming students for that year – who graduated in 2009.

But that middle-of-the-pack number is much worse for minority students, who have graduated at a rate of at least 10 percent less than Caucasians at Kent State for the last five years.

“The great majority of our students are not persisting through college on this campus,” said Alfreda Brown, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion. “We have to find out what is the problem.”

Ohio’s overall six-year graduation rate is 55 percent for the 2001 cohort, which graduated in 2007, according to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.

For four-year institutions, the state requires them to track graduation rates in six-year increments.

The RPIE Web site lists five factors that influence graduation rates: student preparedness, number of credit hours taken each year, availability of financial aid, balancing of work schedules and scheduling of classes.

Brown said there could be various reasons for these low rates. The reasons could be the inflexibility of the university system or communication challenges.

Disparity in minority rates

Minority population rates are even lower than the majority rate. Only 37.8 percent of the 2003 cohort of African Americans, Hispanic and Latino, Native Americans and Native Alaskans graduated in six years, whereas 51.5 percent of Caucasians did.

This disparity is evident in other colleges across the country. Ohio is one of the top 10 states with the largest disparity in graduation rates for whites and minorities, according to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. The disparity for 2007 is 17.2 percent.

Brown said a reason for this disparity may be the size of the group.

“The population of minorities is so small . that oftentimes some of their needs go unnoticed,” she said. “There are so many other needs by the majority that the minority population gets overlooked.”

Brown said the university needs to work on the accommodation of these groups.

Dametraus Jaggers, a higher education and administration graduate student, said he is the first generation in his family to attend college, and he found it challenging.

When Jaggers, who is black, was an undergraduate, he struggled with finding support. He could not rely on his family because they had never experienced college.

“It takes a very motivated person to create a support system if your family hasn’t experienced it,” he said. He added that other first-generation minority students may experience this.

Jaggers said he has noticed individuals who were enrolled at Kent State when he started and were still working toward their degree when he graduated.

Finding a solution

Jaggers has been researching, along with others, these minority issues in higher education, and it’s serving as a basis for a program he’s starting called Minority Leadership and Development Initiative.

The program focuses on supporting black, Native-American and Hispanic/Latino males. He hopes this program will offer minority males the support he didn’t have as an undergraduate.

Pan-African Studies lecturer Idris Syed said he agreed that financial issues and social differences contribute to these low rates, but he said a larger problem exists within the structure of the university.

“We focus on numbers, and we don’t focus on the people behind those numbers,” he said. He said he would like to see more support for minorities and more action taken.

Jaggers said this problem should be addressed because the long-term effects of people dropping out of college affect society through poverty rates, jobless rates and families.

But Brown said analysis of data is needed before action can be taken.

She wants to look at the graduation rates in addition to retention rates among the African-American, Latino-American and Native-American population at Kent State. These data will make up a diversity scorecard, which she aims to complete in Fall 2011. After analysis, Brown said the data will be interpreted and action will be decided.

“We have to do better,” she said.

Contact diversity reporter Kelly Petryszyn at [email protected].

How Kent State compares to other colleges

Six-year graduation rates for students entering in 2001 and graduating in 2007:

• Miami University 78.5 percent

• University of Cincinnati 51.7 percent

• Bowling Green 56.6 percent

• University of Akron 33.9 percent

• Cleveland State University 31.3 percent

• Ohio State University 71.2 percent

Source: Ohio Board of Regents