From 2003 to 2013, the gap in graduation rates between white and minority students has widened, according to a report from the Education Trust.
Using data drawn from the National Center for Education Statistics, the report found six-year graduation rates for underrepresented students, which the report defined as black, African-American and Native students had risen from 65.8 percent to 69.6 percent from 2003 to 2013. However, the graduation rates of white students at UT had risen from 74.3 percent to 83.1 percent, five percent more than their minority peers — during the same timespan.
“Both policymakers and institutional leaders must pay more attention to who benefits from the increased focus on completion,” the Education Trust report said. “Our data make it clear that overall institutional improvement doesn’t always translate into gains for underrepresented students that match those for white students — much less close long-standing gaps.”
Amber Magee, Student Government administrative director and former director of the diversity and inclusion agency, said underrepresented students tend to graduate at lower rates because they aren’t targeted for academic opportunities at a young age that help them develop the skills they need to get into UT.
“You have to recognize that students aren’t starting out on the same field,” said Magee, health and society and public health senior. “Regardless of the income level or the high school life, a white student at UT is going to have more access to resources and opportunities than a black student.”
David Laude, senior vice provost for enrollment and curriculum management, views graduation rates through another lens: economic factors. Laude oversees the University Leadership Network and TIP scholars, which use income, family educational background and other factors to determine which students need academic support the most.
“It wasn’t about ethnicity,” Laude said. “It wasn’t about gender. It was about class. People who are raised affluent are more likely to be able to survive college because they don’t have to deal with economic issues and they feel more comfortable in that environment.”
When asked about the graduation rate gap between minority students and white students, Laude said he wants to see graduation rates increase “across all arenas,” no matter what the background of the student is.
“When people ask me about four-year graduation rates, I’m going to do it one student at a time,” Laude said. “I don’t care if it’s an affluent student who suffers from depression or if it’s an economically disadvantaged student who needs to work a 20-hour job. I want both of those students to graduate.”
Laude said four-year graduation rates have improved at UT and he’s optimistic UT can reach a 70 percent graduation rate across the board. According to the provost’s office, the four-year graduation rate rose 2.6 percent to 57.7 percent in 2014.
Clinical education professor Beth Bukoski said she believes the university’s initiatives are making progress in helping more students graduate, but cautioned that race-neutral policies tend to benefit already advantaged students
“What often happens with racially neutral policies is that the main beneficiaries tend to be white people,” Bukoski said. “I really hope to a point where that gap is reduced or completely gotten rid of, but the fact is that race and income are part of the fabric of American existence.”