Studies have found that minority college students experience “higher college dropout rates, lower levels of academic preparation in high school, lower socioeconomic status, and greater alienation or isolation in the white college environment.” Much admirable progress has been made to increase the diversity of America’s colleges and offer support to minority students, but more needs to be done. College and university leaders must continue to ensure that minority students have access to higher education, and to address challenges that minority students experience due to their financial, cultural, and educational backgrounds.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduate students who began their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution in fall 2010 was highest for Asian students, at 74%, and white students, at 64%. In contrast, the graduation rate for Hispanic students is a much lower 54%, and the rate for Black students is 40%. African American and Latino students pursuing higher education at predominately white institutions tend to earn lower grades than white students, even when entering college with comparable test scores. Some researchers explain that negative stereotypes can contribute to this achievement gap, with many minority students being made to feel that they are ill-equipped for college-level work. This perception can foster a sense of alienation, or lead to what psychologists call the impostor syndrome: “a complex array of feelings characterized by a belief that one is incompetent and any achievements are in fact undeserved strokes of luck or other external factors.” In order to bridge this gap, minority students must recognize that they are just as capable of pursuing higher education as their white counterparts.
While for some institutions, bridging the education gap for minority students is focused on reaching a certain quota or using diversity as a marketing tool, some states are showing encouraging progress toward increasing both enrollment and graduation rates. For example, in Ohio, for all campuses and students at all levels, enrollment by Hispanic or Latino students has increased by 10.6% to a record high of 3,018 students. African American student enrollment has increased 8.7%, also to a record high of 4,327. At Ohio State University’s main campus, the graduation rate for Hispanic students is 80.44%, approaching the 83.5% graduation rate for white students. African American students, however, are still 10% behind their white peers, with a graduation rate of 73.3%.
It is not enough to increase minority enrollment without creating an academic environment that helps minority students to succeed academically and graduate successfully. Many minority students grapple with complex challenges that are often overlooked in colleges’ pursuit of increasing diversity levels. As an African American and first generation college student at a predominately white institution, I have witnessed minority students struggle with navigating their collegiate careers as they grapple with financial problems, low morale, and lack of access to resources that could help them succeed. Finding ways to address these problems has fueled my passion to work with trustees and alumni at my university and other colleges in the Central Ohio area to increase minority students’ retention rates and to ensure that minority students do not become merely a statistic in the diversity numbers race.
Jayda Rogers is a curricular improvement intern at ACTA and a rising sophomore at The Ohio State University.
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