November 29, 2007

Graduation Rates Differ Greatly by Race, Gender

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Although it is not as large as the national average, there is a gap in graduation rates between black and Latino students at Cornell compared with their Caucasian and Asian peers.
According to Cornell’s First-Time Freshman Graduation Rates Fall 1980 – Fall 1999 Entering Classes Biennial Report, the six-year graduation rates for Caucasian and Asian students entering Cornell as freshmen between 1980 and 1999 is around 90 percent. For blacks and Latinos, this number is closer to 80 percent. In 1999 alone, these numbers were 93.6 and 86.6 percent, respectively.
Nationally, the numbers are 67 percent for white students, 71 percent for Asian students, 47 percent for Latino students and 46 percent for black students, according to the Teagle Working Group.
According to David Harris, vice provost for social sciences, the gap is twofold: not only is there a gap between blacks as compared to their peers, but there is also a graduation gap between black women and men.
While the graduation rate of black women is, at close to 90 percent, almost the same as the University average, and there is a gender gap across all ethnic groups at Cornell, the approximately 75 percent graduation rate of black men “lags” significantly.
Harris attributes this in part to the negative stereotypes many people associate with black men, which can add to the difficulties blacks already face as underrepresented minorities on campus.
In light of these differences Harris said, “The question is why do these gaps exists, and what do we do now?”
There are several different reasons given for why the graduation gap exists.
Ernie Jolly ’09, Black Students United co-president, said that one issue for black and Latino students is “how comfortable they feel on campus.”
He said that it can be intimidating for a black student to be the only black person in a large lecture class and noted that sometimes professors have “different expectations” for their black and Latino students.
Enongo A. Lumumba-Kasongo ’08, Black Students United senior co-president added that oftentimes black students “haven’t had comfortable relationships with administrators or authority figures in the past,” and may have a hard time contacting and approaching professors or other members of Cornell’s faculty.
Although many students at Cornell come from lower socio-economic statuses, this is another difficulty faced by many minority students. The responsibility of “splitting studying with working,” creates difficulties for some students according to Iris Delgado ’09, vice president of ALANA, the African, Latino, Asian, Native American Programming Board.
Additionally, many minority students may be the first in their families to attend college and lack the familial guidance and support that other students take for granted.
Some students are working together with Cornell to help close this gap.
Jolly said, “I commend the University for realizing that there is an issue and putting forth solutions.”
On Nov. 17, BSU hosted an empowerment conference to “address academic achievement within the Black and Latino communities.”
Additionally, there are already several programs in existence aimed at improving life on campus for minority students.
Breaking Bread brings together various student groups to eat a meal together and have an opportunity to discuss their differences.
Although not explicitly for minority students, the Pre-freshmen Summer Program’s attendees are disproportionately minority students, and Harris said the program is currently being assessed to ensure that it truly “makes an impact” on students prior to beginning college.
According to Harris, a summer institute for faculty is being developed which will “inform people about each other, so they can create a comfortable environment that is free from bias for all.”
Also, the Equity Scorecard, which uses data to see how the University is doing in addressing its diversity goals, “gives us a sense of what we should do,” Harris said.
Renee Alexander ’74, director of Minority Alumni Programs, said that when she was an undergraduate student, the main issue for black and Latino students was accessing schools such as Cornell.
She said that because of these issues a generation ago, “It is not surprising that a graduation gap exists, but we must figure out how to close it.”
She added, however, that since “so much progress has been made” since she was a student, and since students today are so “engaged in the issue,” she is optimistic that the gap will be closed.
Jolly said, “There are a lot of people working hard on this issues, bit there is still room for improvement.”
He hopes that the Capital Campaign’s three main goals of hiring more faculty, increasing financial aid and improving the facilities will all help the University’s minority students.