While one South Carolina public university was recognized as a leader national leader for improving minority graduation rates, a second university was tabbed as one where the gap between white students and minorities has widened.
The University of South Carolina in Columbia was recently recognized by The Education Trust as one of 26 universities that have made the largest gains in the past decade to close the graduation gap between minority and white students.
The Education Trust study, titled “Rising Tide,” looked at graduation rates among students at public colleges and universities from 2003-13. Researchers wanted to see how minority graduation rates compared to white students at four-year public colleges with significant numbers of minority students whose overall graduation rates improved over that time period.
They also wanted to show where gaps existed between white and minority graduation rates and whether those gaps were growing or shrinking.
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The overall results showed that graduation rates among minority students rose by 6.3 percent with a minority graduation rate of 50.1 percent.
At the 255 public universities that saw overall graduation rates improve and serve a significant number of minorities – African-American, Latino and Native American students – 77 percent raised graduation rates for minorities.
The Citadel did not. It was listed among 17 institutions that had declining graduation rates for minorities while graduation rates for white students improved.
Its graduation rate for minorities fell from 62.4 percent in 2003 to 55.2 percent in 2013.
“We’re conscientious that that gap is not acceptable,” said Connie Ledoux Book, The Citadel’s provost and dean of the college. “We’re working every day to try to close that gap.”
At USC, the minority graduation rate rose by 12.3 percent over the past decade, from 55.1 percent in 2003 to 67.4 percent in 2013. The graduation gap between white and minority students shrunk by 5.3 percent during the same 10-year period, tops in the state.
USC President Harris Pastides called the university’s high ranking “a strong affirmation of our intentional and thoughtful approach to improving graduation rates for all students.”
He called the rising graduation rate for underrepresented students “particularly gratifying.” He applauded the university’s administrative team, faculty and staff for implementing best practices for recruiting, advising and student support “as well as the creation of a full summer semester that encourages our students to graduate early or as we say, ‘On Your Time.’”
The gains at USC are the result of a sustained effort by the university to ensure every student who is admitted has the support needed to graduate, said Dennis Pruitt, vice president for student affairs, vice provost and dean of students.
USC has developed services to assist minority students in the transition to the university and to help them succeed once on campus.
Those services include University 101, which helps new students transition academically and personally; a student success center for academic support and mentoring; scholarship programs for first-generation and low-income students; a partnership with Midlands Technical College that provides a bridge from high school to the university; and an office of diversity and inclusion, which develops diversity strategies.
“We’ve normalized the idea that all students need help at some point — whether it be academic, social or emotional — and we’ve put programs and services in place to meet whatever individual needs a student may have,” Pruitt said.
Book, at The Citadel, said they’ve paid close attention to the graduation gap and it is a concern. She noted that its minority graduation rate is highest among the 17 universities dinged in the report for widening gaps and it’s higher than all but 12 of the 26 universities that showed the greatest improvement.
The Citadel has developed multiple strategies to improve and its percentage of minority students has grown from 12 percent to 22 percent in the last decade, Book said.
One of the university’s key initiatives in its 2018 Plan is to raise scholarship money specifically to help recruit minority students. Book said that once in college, minorities on aggregate have a more unstable financial situation, so The Citadel has begun to raise funding for emergencies.
And this year, they’ve established a Diversity Council to guide improvements in faculty and student body diversity.
Other South Carolina colleges and universities included in the study whose minority graduation rate improved and gaps shrunk include: Francis Marion University (4 percent) and University of South Carolina-Aiken (1.9 percent).
Schools where the gap widened but minority graduation rate improved include: Lander University (12.3 percent), College of Charleston (11 percent), Clemson University (6.3 percent), Winthrop University (5 percent), University of South Carolina-Upstate (2 percent) and Coastal Carolina University (0.2 percent).
The complete data can be found in the Rising Tide report.