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University of Virginia Leads Public Universities with Highest African-American Graduation Rate for 12th Straight Year

March 16, 2006 --For the 12th consecutive year, the University of Virginia has posted the highest graduation rate for African-American students among major public institutions, according to an annual survey published this week by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

Data published in the journal’s Winter issue show that the six-year graduation rate  for African-American students who entered U.Va. in the fall of 1998 is 86 percent.

U.Va. is the only public institution in the top 20 of all colleges and universities and is the leader among flagship state universities, according to the journal, which used statistics compiled by the NCAA.

The next-highest rates among the flagship universities were 70 percent at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of New Hampshire, 69 percent at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and 67 percent at the University of Michigan.

The graduation rates at flagship state universities are especially important, the article asserts, because “America’s large state universities educate three-fourths of all African-American college students.”

Bruce Slater, managing editor of the journal and author of the article, said that “by a large margin the University of Virginia has the highest black student graduation rate of any state-chartered institution in the nation. The black student graduation rate at the University of Virginia is even higher than at two Ivy League institutions.”

Nationwide, the graduation rate for black students is 42 percent, and the journal lists several factors as possible explanations for the high rates at schools like U.Va. These include orientation and retention programs, curricular issues, a critical mass of black students on campus, favorable racial climates, locations near African-American population centers and the availability of financial aid.

U.Va.’s supportive structure consists of three primary elements: a strong link between admissions and retention; ongoing mentoring relationships with personal attention from upperclassmen, teachers and administrators; and, a wealth of activities that emphasize leadership and self-governance.

In particular, the Peer Advisor Program at U.Va., often cited as a national model, is credited with the successful transition from high school and retention of African-American students at the University. Established in 1984 by Sylvia Terry, associate dean of African-American Affairs, the program provides personal, sensitive support and counseling and highlights academic work and achievement. For example, the peer advisers have created a regular study-hall time, called “Raising the Bar,” and the Office of African American Affairs holds an annual Harambee event to celebrate student academic success.

Here is how several key members of the University administration explain U.Va.’s success:

U.Va. President John T. Casteen III: “African-American students have a long-running record of success at the University. They enter with a solid academic foundation and with a desire to build upon their achievements. Their families are engaged in the students' experience here, and University faculty and staff work with the students and their families to maintain a high graduation rate. Together we prepare these young women and men to enter the workplace as thoughtful and creative leaders.”

William B. Harvey, vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity: “Parents, perhaps even more than students, realize it’s not just about getting their sons and daughters into college, it's about getting them out — with a degree. It seems to me that 12 successive years of being on top sends a very significant message to African-American students and parents who are trying to make a decision about the best institution for a college education and the best value for their money. The fact that the University consistently ranks as the top public institution in the country to graduate its African-American students demonstrates that the environment here is a very supportive one, despite the isolated incidents that occur from time to time.”

Angela M. Davis, associate dean of students and director of residence life: “When we [student services, such as residence life] started growing to support the growing student population, we never changed our philosophy of approachability — our open door policy — working very closely with the student groups that we advise or supervise. That’s been a part of the culture of the University of Virginia, and other institutions are just amazed at how our students are invested in the life of the community, the life of the University.”

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