Press Release

Graduation Rates for Black Students at Public, Four-Year Colleges and Universities Not Increasing at the Same Rate as Other Students, According to Ed Trust

WASHINGTON — Across the nation, activists — led by black students — are pushing university leaders to address racism and other inequities on campus and to work harder to close completion gaps between black and white students. A new report out today from The Education Trust shows how critical these demands are — even at institutions with track records of improvement in overall student success.

Our newest paper — Rising Tide II: Do Black Students Benefit as Grad Rates Increase? — finds that completion rates for Black students increased at almost 70 percent of the 232 public, four-year institutions that improved overall graduation rates from 2003-2013. But at more than half of those institutions (53 percent), the gains among black students were not as large as those among white students, widening gaps between groups.

Worse still, at almost one-third (or 73) of the colleges and universities that improved overall student success, graduation rates for black students were flat or declining. At 39 of these institutions, black graduation rates fell even as white graduation rates increased.

“Just like many of the campus activists suggest, our data show that university leaders can and should do more to create a more supportive and welcoming environment that allows black students to thrive,” said Andrew H. Nichols, Ph.D., Ed Trust director of higher education research and data analytics and a co-author of the report. “We have serious concerns that at too many institutions, equitable student success is an afterthought instead of a top-of-mind priority.”

The good news is that there are institutions that are serious about improving success for all students, and they get more students to commencement day while also closing completion gaps. The report lists 52 such institutions that stand out for raising graduation rates among black students and narrowing gaps. Exemplars profiled in the report include:

  • Texas Tech University, where staff created Mentor Tech in response to surveys they conducted with former students to learn why they left the university before graduating. Mentor Tech hosts nearly 60 academic- and career-focused workshops each year for underrepresented students. The program also facilitates connections with local churches and other community groups to build additional networks for students. In 2002, the program started with just 46 students. Today, it enrolls more than 1,000.
  • The Ohio State University, where campus leaders attribute their success to a three-pronged approach that includes: 1) pre-collegiate outreach and support for first-generation, low-income students; 2) an Early Arrival program that helps black freshmen acculturate to college; and 3) continuing on-campus support for underrepresented students throughout their time at the university.

The report also lists 27 schools that need to do much more. These schools have witnessed declining graduation rates for black students and significantly widening gaps. They include:

  • University of Missouri–Kansas City, where — despite a 10 percentage point increase in its overall graduation rate over the last decade — the gap in graduation rates between black and white students has grown to 22.7 percentage points. In 2003, the graduation rate for black students was higher than that of white students — 45.5 percent to 38.1 percent, respectively. Ten years later, however, the graduation rate for black students fell to 31.2 percent while that of white students rose to 53.9 percent.
  • Concord University, where the graduation rate for black students decreased drastically over the last 10 years. Currently the rate is 21.3 percent, 18.1 percentage points below its peak in 2003. That year, the graduation rate for black students at this West Virginia school exceeded the rate for white students, but the completion gap that currently separates these students is 14.8 percentage points.

“Institutional leaders can’t be satisfied with overall gains — or even just with any increase for black students,” said José Luis Santos, Ph.D., vice president of higher education policy and practice at Ed Trust. “Leaders must strive for accelerated gains among black students so they can catch up to their peers. Thankfully, there are institutions across the country that are showing the way forward.”

This is the second of two research papers looking at the graduation rates of traditionally underserved minority students. The first report — Rising Tide: Do College Grad Rate Gains Benefit All Students? — was released in December 2015 and examined the graduation rates of Latino, Native, African American, and white students.


The Education Trust is a nonprofit advocacy organization that promotes high academic achievement for all students at all levels, pre-kindergarten through college. Its goal is to close the gaps in opportunity and achievement that consign far too many young people — especially those from low-income families or who are black, Latino or American Indian — to lives on the margins of the American mainstream. (