U.Va.'s Black Graduation Rate Remains No. 1 Nationally Among Public Universities

March 9, 2009 — For the 15th consecutive year, the University of Virginia graduated the highest percentage of African-American students of all public universities, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

U.Va.'s black graduation rate tops its nearest public rival, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, by 14 percentage points, the journal reported.

Among all schools, public and private, U.Va. retained its place from last year, tied for No. 8 in the group of 29 schools with a graduation rate of 86 percent or higher for their African-American students.

"U.Va. is gratified at once again having the highest rate for African-American students of any public university in the nation," said William B. Harvey, vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity.

"It's important to point out that of the 29 institutions with the highest graduation rates for African-American students, U.Va. is the only public university. For 15 consecutive years, this honor has been bestowed upon the institution," he said. "While it would be easy to be complacent with this level of success over such a long period of time, that hasn't happened, and in fact, the graduation rate for 2008 is actually higher than it was 10 years ago."

Examining  research universities as a group, the journal shows U.Va. as the only public university in that list as well, tied for seventh place with University of Notre Dame and Vanderbilt University.

A major goal for the University's Office of African-American Affairs, said the dean, Maurice Apprey, is boosting the grades of black students to better prepare them for opportunities in research and scholarship.

"What the high rankings reflect," Apprey said, "is that a nurturing environment exists at the University of Virginia and that the Office of African American Affairs works well with faculty, administration and staff to ensure the success of our students. This view is consistent with the findings of the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education as a consistent feature in successful institutions."

Harvey echoed Apprey's assessment, saying, "There are two specific reasons why we remain at the top in this category: first, our admissions office enrolls excellent students. Above all else, this is the key to our success. Second, the University supports the students' academic and social development, most specifically through its award-winning Peer Adviser Program."

Apprey said the goal over the next five years is to continue to increase the graduation rate while reducing the gap between black and white students.

In another survey, the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education compared the first-year
enrollments of black students at the highest-ranked universities. U.Va. ranks ninth in that list and has the highest applicant acceptance rate. With 287 first-year black students, the percentage of the class is 8.8 percent. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is the only other public university ranked above U.Va.; it enrolled 417 black students, who make up 10.8 percent of its first-year class.

Financial aid, especially the AccessUVa program, enables the University to compete with private institutions to provide greater financial aid than some other schools, Apprey added.

This year the California Institute of Technology tops the list with a 100 percent black graduation rate. Only 17 black students matriculated during the time period calculated, however. Apprey pointed out that U.Va. and other large schools have "a strong and large core of black students … and still managed to achieve their objectives."

— By Anne Bromley