January 18, 2006 — The University of Virginia has the highest graduation rate of African-American students among the group of 25 top-rated public universities known as the “Public Ivies,” according to a Jan. 13 article in The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.
The study found that Virginia’s 86 percent graduation rate for black students is 7 percent higher than the College of William & Mary, which ranked second at 79 percent. Not only is the University’s rate higher than the group of public institutions cited in the article, it is also higher than four Ivy League institutions: Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania.
In addition to the overall graduation rate for black students, the JBHE article also compared the differences between graduation rates of white and black students. Virginia was joined at the top of this list by the University of California at Irvine and the State University of New York at Albany with a 5 percent difference between the graduation rates for white and black students. “At three of the Public Ivies, the black student graduation rate is only 5 percentage points below the rate for whites,” the article noted. “By far the most impressive is the University of Virginia with its high black student graduation rate of 86 percent and its small racial difference in graduation rates.” Of the institutions in the study, Virginia has the second-highest percentage of black students in its undergraduate student body. The University of North Carolina has the highest (11.1 percent) followed by U.Va. and Florida with 8.5 percent each. In an annual survey of graduation rates by the Journal for Blacks in Higher Education, Virginia has had the highest graduation rate among the flagship state universities for the past 11 years in a row.
According to M. Rick Turner, dean of African-American Affairs, the support that U.Va. offers its students is unmatched.
“There is a multitude of factors that keep students here,” Turner said. “When you look at retention studies and graduation rates, no other institutions do what we do. It’s an atmosphere of trust, an atmosphere of comfort. “The bottom line is students like it here. It comes down to friendships and connections. They like each other, and they anticipate the benefits that students from the University of Virginia have when they graduate. They just fall in love with each other.” U.Va. President John T. Casteen III attributed the high graduation rates of African-American students to a community that fosters and supports student achievement.
“There are as many motivations and grounds for success or failure as there are students,” Casteen said. “But it seems clear to me that the personal attention paid by the admissions office to all applicants, combined with the community students find here when they enroll, matter in special ways to incoming African-American students. On enrolling, they come into a culture where their success is treasured.” In addition, Casteen said that African-American students at Virginia “lead in every sense. “I admire the custom of our African-American students and their families of speaking up when hard issues arise, as they do from time to time, and of taking broad roles, not roles defined by race but roles defined by understanding themselves as citizens with inalienable rights, when the University must engage in the hardest kinds of dialogues in order to address and remedy its problems,” Casteen said. John A. Blackburn, dean of admission at U.Va., also credited the faculty here for the attention that they provide undergraduates. “Most students are usually surprised at how well they come to know some of their professors and, in spite of our size, they feel that their professors actually know them,” Blackburn said. He added that the tradition of self-governance at the University is another factor in U.Va.’s top-ranked 86 percent graduation rate for African-American students.
“Since the early ’80s, black students have been head of the honor committee or student class president, and I think black students see that they can have impact on their lives here through student government,” Blackburn said.
The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education is available on the Web at www.jbhe.com.