Low graduation rates among minority college students have been a cause of grave concern in recent years for educational institutions, academics, student advocates, and policy makers.
For the minority students themselves, many that start college simply aren’t finishing.
Two of the minority groups that aren’t completing college in big numbers are Hispanics and African Americans.
Among the Hispanic population, a May 2013 Pew Research Center analysis found that while 69 percent of Hispanic high school graduates in the class of 2012 enrolled in college that fall, young Hispanic college students are less likely than whites to complete a bachelor’s degree. The Pew analysis, citing data from the U.S. Census, revealed that 11 percent of Hispanics ages 22 to 24 years old finished a four-year degree in March 2012 compared to 22 percent of young whites.
Among African Americans, a similar situation exists. In addressing the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) conference about college readiness and success in September 2010, then deputy secretary of education Tony Miller noted that only about a third of all African Americans that start college get their bachelor’s degree. “African Americans are more likely than any major ethnic group in the United States to have some college experience but no degree,” Miller said.
A February 2014 report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy showed that the six-year graduation rate for bachelor’s degree-seeking students is 38 percent at four-year Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) compared to 61 percent at non-MSIs. The report includes HBCUs, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and Tribal Colleges and Universities under the MSIs umbrella, enrolling some 3.5 million students of color.
Hilary Pennington, director, U.S. Program Special Initiatives for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, summed up the reality of lagging graduation rates for minorities in a speech as far back as a few years ago to the American Council on Education. “The entering class at most colleges today looks like America,” Pennington said. “But the graduating class does not. The students who walk across are white.”
For minority students intent on succeeding through college as undergraduates and graduate students, there’s no shortage of tips for achievement. Colleges and universities, organizations, professors, advocates, public officials, websites, and bloggers and others all weigh in with advice for attaining success. And while mastering the ABCs is paramount, observers say it is just as important to college success for students to have a well-rounded college experience that includes campus events, organizations, and social activities.
In searching for practical advice about college achievement, the website campusexplorer.comis a good place to start. In a section titled “Your College Search,” links to a plethora of articles will get you on your way, such as “The Impact of Diversity on Campus,” “How to Choose a College Major,” “8 College Resources for Minority Students,” and “The Pros and Cons of Using College Rankings.”
The site contains links to literally hundreds of articles. The article on choosing a college major, for instance, says this:
“First and foremost, a college major should be chosen based on your interests and career goals. However, it is not uncommon for students to select their majors based on the careers of parents or siblings. If following in their career path is not right for the student, then it will likely lead to an unfulfilling education and career.”
With many minority students characterized as first-generation and low-income students, acquiring financial resources for college is deemed critical to success.
The Lumina Foundation, a private foundation based in Indianapolis that seeks to increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates, and other credentials to 60 percent by 2025, has funded a series of policy papers that explore new models of student financial support. While these papers do not necessarily go into the nuts-and-bolts of applying for aid, they serve to put a spotlight on the college-funding landscape.
In one April 2014 report, “College Costs: Students Can’t Afford Not to Know,” the authors note that the costs of attending college have risen and continue to rise quickly. The report suggests that students and their families that receive financial aid via grants, loans, and other forms need to have an understanding of the costs.
As for specific financial aid tips, the Peterson’s website, which provides educational content and is part of the Nelnet Inc. organization that services student loans, offers advice to parents and students to help them get through the maze of educational funding. Among them:
• Get an early idea of your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) during the student’s junior year in high school.
• Make financial aid a part of your campus visits, and ask to speak with someone in the student financial aid office.
• Pay attention to deadlines, and to assist with financial aid for college forms, file your taxes as early in the year as possible.
• Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) even if you think you won’t qualify.
• Make your college aware of special circumstances, such as a job loss, since completing the FAFSA.
As noted, success in college shouldn’t be confined to the classroom. Psychotherapist and author Stephanie Sarkis, a contributor to The Huffington Post, put together 50 tips for succeeding in college. Many are in the “miscellaneous” category that Sarkis said she learned as a college student and professor.
Here are 10 of them:
1. If it’s either take out a loan or quit school, take out a loan. The more time you take off from college, the lower the chances are of you returning to it.
2. Always attend the “real” class, and use the Internet one for review.
3. If you are not a morning person, don’t schedule classes for 7 a.m.
4. Get involved on campus. All work and no “productive” socializing are boring.
5. Sit near the front of class.
6. Recopy your notes after class. Or if you’ve typed them (which is recommended), do a quick read-through after class.
7. See how your first semester goes before you consider getting a job. See how heavy your course load is first.
8. Find a bank that also has branches in your hometown. Get your account connected to your parents’ account so they can transfer money to you.
9. Use virus protection and firewalls on your laptop.
10. Reconsider bringing a car to campus your first semester. It can be a pain to park.
For those students aspiring to attend or attending graduate school, Marybeth Gasman, an associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, offers tips through her blog column in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Gasman, an expert on Minority Serving Institutions, offers the following:
• Keep an open mind. Make your experience your own experience, and enjoy it.
• Get to know the faculty members in your program. Make appointments with them a few months into the semester.
• Ask faculty members if you can help them conduct research and write articles.
• Most universities have many different cultural events, speakers, and organizational activities. Frequent these. The relationships that you establish across disciplines can be wonderfully beneficial and long lasting.
• Get in the habit of writing every day. There is a great deal of research that shows that if you write every day, you will be a better writer and a more productive writer and that writing will come more easily to you.
• Stay focused on ideas and not academic politics.
• Make sure that you give as much as you get. Find something about which you feel immense passion, and give as much as you can to whatever it is.
Need more tips for success? Try these from Northwood University, a unique institution based in Michigan and other states whose purpose is focused on developing leaders, managers, and entrepreneurs:
• Take advantage of international learning opportunities.
• Organization is key to academic success. (Prepare for classes and extracurricular assignments well in advance.)
• Schedule courses early and wisely. (Do not leave the difficult courses until the end or wait until the last minute to register for classes.)
• Read the syllabus before the first day of class. (You will know what to expect, and you will also learn what expectations your faculty members have.)
For students not yet in college, the African-American Collegiate Scholarship Fund Inc., a Florida-based non-profit organization established in 2001, says in a posting of tips from its website that it is never too early to set the stage for college success.
One tip: Visit as many colleges as possible, ask lots of questions, spend as much time as possible at each institution, and, if possible, have your family accompany you. Your family knows you better than anyone else, thus their observations and opinions may prove very helpful to you (even if you agree on nothing else).
“Winning means winding up at a college or university in which you’ll be both happy and successful,” according to the African-American Collegiate Scholarship Fund.
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