The national average graduation rate of African American and Hispanic students has decreased significantly in the last 30 years, according to a recent study conducted by Michal Kurlaender, an associate professor of education at UC Davis.
According to the study, the number of graduating African Americans in 2004 dropped 33 percent, while the Hispanic student graduation rate dropped 34 percent nationally. The increase in dropout rates has grown in tandem with an enduring increase in enrollment to college by minority groups overall.
Kurlaender said that there are several possibilities for this phenomenon.
“There are many reasons for [students] to drop out: They may find employment that is more lucrative, have no taste for school or find they aren’t good at it,” Kurlaender said.
Kurlaender also cites that some students may experience a lack of preparation due to a misalignment between high school academics and the intensity of college coursework, as well as financial constraints due to rising tuition fees. All of these factors may contribute directly to the dropout rate of minorities in college, who are more likely to come from low-income families and may be dependent on financial aid. She stressed that these reasons are not mutually exclusive.
However, Kurlaender said that this is a national average and is not specific to the UC system.
“More selective institutions have much higher completion rates on average,” Kurlaender said. “UC schools draw from the top 12 percent of the state.”
The total graduation rate for students receiving their bachelor’s degree in 2004 was 44 percent of students in four years, 77 percent in five years and 81 percent in six years, according to tabulations from the Integrated Post-Secondary Data System of the National Center for Education Statistics.
UC Davis African American students experienced a growth in graduation rates between 1996 and 1999, followed by a sharp decrease in 2000 that has persisted to the present, according to the Retention of Undergraduates of UC Davis 1995-2004 report released by Student Affairs Research and Information. The same document reports that the graduation rate of UC Davis Hispanic students has remained constant.
“It’s not that these students are less able, but they may be dealing with external factors,” said Brian Macapinlac, a student director at the Student Retention and Recruitment Center – a student run program that works to promote academic achievement while raising political and cultural awareness in the UC Davis community.
Macapinlac, a senior neurobiology, physiology and behavior major, said many minority students who use the SRRC services come from less affluent families. As a result, they often work during college while dealing with family pressures. In addition, the UC Davis institution does not promote integration into the system, which leaves many students feeling estranged and unsupported through fiscal and academic uncertainty.
“That’s one of the biggest things we are trying to combat,” he said. “The university is ‘cold.’ Independent centers such as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center, Women’s Center and others are not enough.”
Kurlaender agreed that lack of institutional support might be a factor.
“Students may feel they’re not getting support from the institution,” she said. “Those involved in social activities and research apprenticeships are more likely to persist in college.”
The research conducted by Kurlaender and co-author Erika Felts, a UC Davis graduate student of sociology, will appear as a chapter of the book Realizing Bakke’s Legacy, which is scheduled for release in June 2008.
RITA SIMERLY can be reached at email@example.com.