It's time to talk about racial persistence gaps on campus

Dive Brief:

  • New research from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found large disparities still exist in persistence and retention along racial lines. 
  • According to data released this week, Asian students who entered college in fall 2015 persisted at the highest rate, with 84.2% returning for the second semester of college, followed by white students, who returned at a 79.2% rate. But a 17.3% gap exists between the highest and lowest persisting groups; 72.5% of Hispanic students returned, and only 66.9% of black students did. 
  • The report also highlighted the increasingly transient nature of students in higher ed: of all full-time students who entered into college in the fall of 2015, only 61% returned to the same institution the next fall. Another 12.3% transferred to another U.S. institution, for a total student persistence rate of 73.4% — a .2% drop from the previous one-year period, but a 1.9% increase since 2009.

Dive Insight:

The difference between retention and persistence is an important one to which most federal data and, thus, outcome-based funding models have not caught up. Data consistently show today's students are very likely to attend two or more institutions in the course of their educational careers, but completion data typically tracks only the graduation rates of first-time, full-time enrollees. This means that students who have transferred in or out either don't count or count negatively against an institution's completion statistics. And this doesn't even account for students who may enroll part-time or take semesters off to work to earn more money to continue their education, pointing to the critical need for an overhaul of the way data is reported and tracked, particularly as states and the federal government continue to move towards allocating funding based on these metrics.

But the other thing the report points to is the need for institutions to do a better job of supporting students of color, many of whom are disproportionately from low-income or first-generation households. In a recent conversation with Education Dive, Ryan Smith, Executive Director of Education Trust West, pointed to a "systemic and institutional racism" facing students of color, and a need for financial support to promote the success of these students, both in scholarship dollars and programming funding to support mentoring and community-building initiatives on campus. But all of the above require a top-down imperative from the president's office to faculty and students which prioritizes the experiences of all students on campus. And as presidents are increasingly reporting they see student affairs as someone else's job on campus, more leaders are finding themselves facing student protests on campus and, in extreme cases, very public dismissals.

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Filed Under: Higher Ed Policy & Regulation
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