Research highlights racial and ethnic disparity in college graduation rates

Steve Koppes
Associate News DirectorUniversity Communications

Based on research showing the importance of where students enroll in determining the likelihood that they will graduate, the EdTalk Project has developed an up-to-date listing of college graduation rates. More than 1,800 colleges and universities are listed. The companion report, Beyond Enrollment Rates: The Gaping Disparity in Where Black, Latino and White Students Enroll, presents the racial and ethnic disparity in the historical graduation rates of the colleges where the last two freshman cohorts enrolled.

“This report highlights the need to go beyond each institution’s overall graduation rate and examine racial- and ethnic-specific graduation rates,” said Micere Keels, associate professor of human development at the University of Chicago. Her EdTalk Project translates education data for members of the public, practitioners, policymakers and journalists.

For example, Kansas State University has an overall graduation rate of 59 percent, but it drops to 47 percent for Latino students and to an even lower 26 percent for black students. University of North Georgia has an overall graduation rate of 52 percent, but that drops to 38 percent for black students and a lower 32 percent for Latino students.

The data show that only 4 percent of black freshmen in the 2013 and 2014 cohorts enrolled in schools where more than two-thirds of past black students graduated within six years. Though significantly higher, only 10 percent of Latino freshmen enrolled in schools where more than two-thirds of past Latino students graduated within six years. A significantly higher, though still low, 23 percent of white freshmen enrolled in schools where more than two-thirds of past Latino students graduated within six years.

“The consequence of these racial and ethnic gaps is that blacks and Latinos are more likely to enter adulthood with student debt but no degree,” Keels said.

The report concludes with some advice to students and their families, and by listing some of the highest- and lowest-performing schools. The lists include the 50 largest schools that graduate fewer than 25 percent of freshmen. Two lists are presented: one based on the black student graduation rate and one based on the Latino student graduation rate. This is followed by lists of the 50 largest schools that graduate more than 75 percent of freshmen.

“The graduation rate is not the only indicator that matters, but it is a tangible number that students can use to guide their decisions,” Keels said. “Freshmen should enroll at the school with the highest graduation rate for their racial or ethnic group to which they have been admitted. If all of the schools to which they have been admitted have very low graduation rates, they should think twice about the amount of debt they will need to incur.”

The full report and list of more than 1,800 schools is available online.