April 10, 2008 — For the 14th straight year, the University of Virginia's African-American students posted the highest graduation rate among those at all public universities in the nation, according to the annual compilation published by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. The journal reports that U.Va.'s graduation rate of 87 percent makes it "the leader by far in successfully graduating black students" at flagship state universities.
The next closest public universities are the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of California-Berkeley, both with 73 percent, and the University of Michigan, with 70 percent. The national average is 44 percent, compared to 63 percent for white students.
The journal, using data from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, deliberately highlights public universities because three-fourths of African-American students in college attend them.
Overall, U.Va. ranks 19th nationally, behind 18 private universities and colleges of varying sizes. The top group comprises 28 schools with black graduation rates of 86 percent to 96 percent (Harvard).
William Harvey, U.Va.'s vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity, pointed out, "when comparing other Association of American Universities member institutions, the U.Va. graduation rate is the only public institution in the top 10."
In addition to comparing black and white students at highly ranked institutions, the journal analyzes the data several other ways, comparing by gender, comparing historically black colleges and universities to predominantly white institutions and comparing different types of institutions.
U.Va. reflects a trend across the country: African-American women's graduation rates are surging ahead of their male counterparts. According to data from U.Va.'s Office of Institutional Assessment and Studies, 91 percent of black women graduate in a six-year period, compared to 83 percent of black men. The University's overall graduation rate is about 93 percent, which includes white and Asian-American students.
Nationally, the graduation rate for African-American women rose to 48 percent compared to 37 percent for African-American men.
"We need to do more for males," said Peter Yu, assistant dean of African-American Affairs, noting that students who are accepted to U.Va. to begin with are among the best. Women utilize support services and resources much more than males, Yu said.
One of the key factors in the success of black students at U.Va. is the Office of African-American Affairs' nationally known Peer Advisor Program. Associate dean Sylvia Terry, founder and director of the program, said the Peer Advisor Program picks up where the Admissions Office leaves off.
"We want them to be successful and continue the excellence they bring to our institution," Terry said.
She credits the University's Office of Admissions to the integral part it plays in recruiting the best students.
"Our Office of Admissions is phenomenal in its work in recruiting students. They are attentive to students in responding to questions, presenting opportunities and working with parents. Our office picks up in the summer writing families and inviting them to the [University of Virginia] family."
Terry noted one of the ideas of Freeman Habrowski, president of University of Maryland in Baltimore County, a leader in diversity in higher education: "the importance of recruiting the family when attracting [minority] students to predominantly white institutions. We have done this for years," she said.
Dr. Maurice Apprey, who has headed African-American Affairs since 2006, recently said his office's latest initiatives are designed to set the bar higher for black students, urging them to reach beyond the goal of graduating and improve their academic performance, take full advantage of all of the University's opportunities and increase the number going on to graduate and professional schools.
Despite the low national average graduation rate, the good news for African-Americans is that those who graduate have a median income close to that of white college graduates.
See U.Va.'s data from the Office of Institutional Assessment at www.web.virginia.edu/iaas/data_catalog/institutional/data_digest/acad_grad_athletes.htm.
Read the article from JBHE Issue No. 58 at www.jbhe.com/.