- Preliminary data from a San Francisco State University evaluation study demonstrates that students in ethnic studies majors graduate at approximately 20% higher rates than nonmajors. At the same time, students enrolled in at least one ethnic studies class also graduated at a higher rate than students not taking the class. According to a press release from the university, ethnic studies majors maintained a six-year graduation rate of 77.3% compared with a rate of 52.3% for nonmajors.
- The results suggest that cultural education via courses like ethnic studies enhance student outcomes and ability to persist, as Ken Monteiro, the acting director of the César Chávez Institute at the university told Inside Higher Ed. He said faculty members in that major spend more time advising their students and helping alleviate emotional stress. At the same time, the courses "teach [students] how to relate the information to them even if it's not literally related" along with "critical thinking strategies" to help them see ideas from multiple perspectives, Monteiro added.
- The caveat to the study, as a professor at the institution told Inside Higher Ed, is that the results don't demonstrate causation, but rather some correlation between ethnic studies courses and graduation. However, other studies have shown such courses do improve outcomes not only at the higher education level but also for at-risk high school students.
The idea that culturally relevant teaching materials can help students connect better with the curriculum is not a new one. Experts across K-12 and higher education have shown, for example, when it comes to the types of texts instructors use, those with characters and plots directly relevant to students tend to be more understandable.
English professor David Kirkland, the executive director of the NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, told Education Dive, tools like literary fiction that embedded in cultural education help students develop broader critical thinking and human interaction skills that translate to other areas of their professional and academic careers.
“When we flush literature down the toilet, we also flush opportunities to enhance our humanity, to prepare people to participate in a multicultural global democracy in ways that might heighten our level of human participation in the larger project of humanity, said Kirkland. "School is beyond career and college training. We are preparing people to interact in a multicultural democracy."
“We don’t quantify what happens to us when you read Richard Wright and begin to transform. While you benefit in career and college, you also become a more enlightened human being. There's no aptitude test for that," he said.
The results of the San Francisco State University study suggest that administrators may want to consider the impact cultural education may have on student outcomes, particularly at-risk students seeking ways of connecting to their educational experience. More industry experts are recognizing now that completion is not simply a matter of grades or data collection, but can be impacted by external factors like whether students feel excluded on campus.