BY JACOB TROXELL
The University System of Maryland schools have shown mixed results improving the gap between the graduation rates of minorities, low-income students and overall graduations rates.
The USM progress report released earlier this month showed that only four schools – The University of Maryland College Park, The University of Maryland Baltimore County, Towson University and Salisbury University – are improving graduation rate gaps and have overall rates above the USM average of 62 percent in 2013.
The most recent graduation rate data in the report is from the year 2013.
In terms of overall six-year graduation rates from students entering college in 2007 and finishing in 2013, SU is second in the state (67 percent) behind UMCP (84 percent) but had only 53 percent African American and 45 percent of Hispanic students graduate in that span, fourth in the state behind Towson and UMBC.
SU Vice President of Student Affairs Dane Foust said the reason for this may be that there are less Hispanic students at SU and a small amount of students could drop that number substantially. However, he added that SU is close to improving these numbers.
Despite this dip in minority graduation rates, SU is on track to bounce back in 2015. SU has higher second, third, fourth and fifth year retention rates in these categories for the 2009 cohort, ending in the Spring of 2015.
“We are strategic in our thinking in how to assist students academically,” Foust said. “We have faculty and staff committed to student success and are willing to go the extra mile to make that happen.”
Foust also credited programs like TRiO, which helps first generation college students achieve their academic goals, Living Learning Communities, Supplemental Instruction, the Sophomore Residency Program and Powerful Connections for SU’s higher-than-average graduation rates.
“Having some of our sophomores go off campus is too early for them,” Foust said. “During their second year they have more structure and help now if they need it.”
“As a first generation college student I should have gone to programs like (Powerful Connections) a lot earlier in my college career,” Foust said. “I was on my own and my parents had never been through (the college) experience.”
In November 2007, the USM set a goal to cut the six-year graduation rate gap in half by 2015 and to fully eliminate it by 2020.
Their goal is to have 55 percent of Maryland’s population 25 and older to have a college degree and for more college graduates to enter the workforce, ultimately supporting and sustaining Maryland’s economy.
A Course Director at Powerful Connections and Director of Multicultural and International Student Services, Vaughn White has welcomed and advised ethnically diverse students for over 15 years at SU and is a large part of SU’s high retention and graduation rates. White said SU’s success is because of the way they are able to connect with their students.
“SU does a great job of nurturing it’s students from the beginning,” White said. “From freshman to sophomore year, students are deciding if (college) is good for them and are taking liberal arts classes. That second year they really start focusing on their major and if students get to that point we definitely have got them here.”
SU is also on pace to have a record number of low-income students graduate in the 2009 cohort, with third and fourth-year retention rates higher than ever.
A Learning Specialist for TRiO, Ceaira Revels works with numerous low-income students at SU and guides them through appropriate advising, tutoring and other educational programs that SU offers.
“Most of our student’s parents haven’t gone to college. There is no map for college,” Revels said. “Some students don’t like to ask for help but once they get hooked up with a mentor here it helps them.”
According to the USM report, SU has graduated over 60 percent of low-income students from 2010-2013. No other school in the USM, other than UMCP, has been able to accomplish this.
“These programs have a tremendous impact,” White said. “Before we had these programs in schools, the expectation in my community and my church was that you took college prep courses, graduated college, get that education and give back to the community.”
The other eight schools in the USM – Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Frostburg State University, University of Baltimore, University of Maryland Baltimore, University of Maryland Eastern Shore and University of Maryland University College – are working on increasing overall graduation rates up to the USM average by implementing improved assessments for base-level mathematics and English courses, providing educational support for at-risk students, creating vibrant learning communities and increasing financial support.
The class that began this fall will be the final group measured in six-year graduation rates, ending in 2020, so time will tell if this group will meet the expectations the USM set in 2007.
The complete institutional reports are available on the USM website.