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SUNY looks to boost minority graduation rates



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The State University of New York is among 24 national institutions of higher education involved in the Education Trustís Access to Success initiative that pledges to close a graduation gap among minorities and low-income students. SUNY New Paltzís Educational Opportunity Program is part of the schoolís effort to service students in need. Photo by SUNY New Paltz.
December 14, 2009
A report released Dec. 3 shows a wide gap in graduation rates

at public four-year colleges and disturbing variations in success at community colleges nationwide.

In response, leaders at 24 public systems of higher education, including the State University of New York, have pledged to significantly increase graduation rates for underrepresented minorities and low-income students by halving the gap by 2015.

A report by the Education Trust analyzed the school systems involved in the Access to Success initiative, and concluded 45 percent of low-income and underrepresented minority students entering as freshmen in 1999 earn bachelor's degrees within six years, compared with 57 percent of other students.

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The report shows some troublesome statistics for SUNY: 56 percent of low-income students graduated within six years, compared to 64 percent of other students.

Furthermore, underrepresented minority students who entered as freshmen also graduated within six years at a lower rate than others — 49 percent compared to 64 percent.

However, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher is upbeat in response to the report's results, stating that several SUNY campuses, including New Paltz and Stony Brook, have been doing an exceptional job of serving low-income and minority students.

"SUNY's mission is to provide educational services of the highest quality, with the broadest possible access, and our participation in this effort will help us to achieve our goal of access and success for all students," Zimpher said.

Tony Bonilla, director of the Educational Opportunity Program at SUNY New Paltz, said the school's EOP curriculum is part of New Paltz's efforts to serve minority and low-income students.

"EOP is not a minority program per se, but it's a program that meets low-income and academically disadvantaged students," Bonilla said. "Unfortunately, a lot of minority students fall under that category."

The report also highlighted some worrisome statistics nationally: Less than 33 percent of all freshmen, including minorities and low-income students, who enter two-year schools finish with a certificate, associate's degree or transfer to a four-year school. For underrepresented minorities, African-American, Latinos and American Indians, the success rate — 24 percent — is lower than that of other students, 38 percent.

Approximately 7 percent of minority students who enter community colleges earn bachelor's degrees within 10 years.

However, for students who receive Pell Grants, a federal grant program that provides funds for low-income students, the success rate is 32 percent Ė the same as it is for others. And transfer students receiving Pell Grants at four-year schools graduated at a 60 percent rate, also the same as other students.

"The willingness of the Access to Success leaders to pay out the facts, even when the story those facts tell might be uncomfortable, signals a seriousness of purpose rarely seen in higher education," Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, said. "The bold work they are committing to do won't be easy, but these systems are stepping up to do what's right."

Jennifer Engle, assistant director of higher education at the Education Trust and co-author of the report, said by measuring the results for "nontraditional" groups such as low-income, transfer and part-time students, the Access to Success program provides an "unprecedented view" of the progress institutions are serving its entire class of undergraduates, not just a select few.

"Students who aren't counted don't count when policies are debated and decisions are made," Engle said.

The goals of the Access to Success initiative are to increase the number of underrepresented minorities and low-income graduates by 20 percent.

Other higher education systems in the Access to Success program include the California State University, Connecticut State University, State University System of Florida, University of Hawaii, Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, University of Louisiana, University of Maine, University System of Maryland, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, University of Missouri, Montana University, City University of New York, University of Puerto Rico, Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education, South Dakota Board of Regents, Southern University and A&M College and Vermont State Colleges.

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