Gap in graduation rates seen at MU, nationally

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Although Marquette's overall graduation rate is well above the national average, its minority graduation rate lags behind the university average, according to a new report.

Since the fall of 1997, 76.4 percent of students who started at Marquette earned their degree at the university within six years, well ahead of the 56.9 percent national average, according to "One Step From the Finish Line," a report issued by the Education Trust. The Education Trust is a non-profit organization that strives to eliminate gaps in educational achievement, especially for minorities and low-income students. However, Marquette's black graduation rate of 60.9 percent, while much higher than the national average of 40.5 percent, lags significantly behind the overall graduation rate. Of Latino students, 73.9 percent graduated within six years. Minorities overall have a 68.3 percent graduation rate, according to the report.

One of the most important issues a university faces is ensuring its minority students are comforable at the university, according to William Harvey, director of the Center for Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Equity, a division of the American Council on Education.

"The graduation rate speaks to a general degree of comfort at a university," Harvey said. He said if a student doesn't feel like part of campus, whether due to a lack of inclusiveness or outright racism, he or she would be less likely to continue at the university until graduation.

Two student leaders have mixed reactions to how the university treats minorities.

Mauricio Villasuso, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences and the president of the Latin American Student Assocation, said the university had been supportive whenever LASO wished to run a program and he had experienced no bias against Hispanics.

But Rashad Younger, a senior in the College of Communication and president of the Black Student Council, said the university needed to do more to keep minority students. He said the university needs a more diverse faculty. And when planning events, the university needs to invite more diverse performers and guests, he said.

"The university just isn't geared toward minority students," Younger said.

The university has programs which support new students academically and help to boost its graduation rate.

Some minority students start at Marquette with the help of the Educational Opportunity Program, which is designed for low-income and first-generation college students.

Others enter the Freshman Frontier Program, which will be redesigned this fall to include more minority and low-income students. Since its inception, the FFP has focused on students who had low standardized tests scores but who were deemed able to succeed at the university.

"If we can give someone a little edge, it's good," said Mary Minson, director of FFP.

Both programs have summer sessions designed to get students introduced to the university, according to Minson and Alexander Peete, associate director of the EOP. Summer session courses are designed to ensure students are ready for the rigors of college life. Then, that fall, students in the programs take four — instead of five — classes.

"We build GPA instead of building credits," Peete said.

Students also see academic advisers and go to tutoring sessions. The programs also plan events focusing on building a community at Marquette.

Out of the roughly 65 students per EOP class, 60 percent will finish at Marquette, according to Peete.

He said obligations to work and family while simultaneously taking college courses can overwhelm some students.

Others leave because they don't feel the atmosphere at the university is beneficial to them, Younger said.

The FFP graduation rate is about the same as the university's rate, according to Minson.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Feb. 1 2005.

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