Nearly a decade after the University System of Maryland set out to close the achievement gap between minority students and their peers, the system hasn’t met its initial goals. But at the University of Maryland, graduation rates for these groups are above the system average.
The system’s annual scorecard shows modest increases in six-year graduation rates for African-American, Hispanic and low-income students since 2010, when it aimed to eliminate the gaps by 2020. For African-American and low-income students, the system is not on track to meet its goal.
In fiscal 2010, the six-year graduation rate for all students in the system was 67 percent. The rate was 42 percent for the system’s African-American students, 69 percent for Hispanic students and 51 percent for low-income students. Graduation rates for African-American students improved by 7 percentage points from fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2017, while graduation rates for Hispanic students rose by 2 percentage points, and for low-income students by 4 percentage points.
“Higher education institutions across the country will continue to face challenges addressing the achievement gap, improving campus diversity and fostering an inclusive environment,” read a statement provided by system spokesman Mike Lurie. “To that end, the system is in the process of updating its 2020 Strategic Plan and the system is elevating diversity and inclusion to the level of a new, stand-alone goal.”
At a Jan. 16 meeting for the system’s Education Policy and Student Life committee — which handles academic concerns and student issues — members opted to lower the 2020 goal of closing the gap, calling instead for an increase in degrees awarded to underrepresented minority students by 900.
In a statement from the system’s office, officials pointed to an increase in the minority population in system schools to explain the continued achievement gap. Between fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2017, the number of system students who identify as a minority jumped by 41 percent, while the white student population rose by 3 percent during the same time frame, the statement read.
While the system is lagging behind its goal, the graduation rate of minority students at this university closely aligns with the averages of the university’s overall student body.
The six-year graduation rate for all students who entered this university in 2011 was 85 percent, while for African-American students, it was 80 percent, a 7 percent jump from six years prior. Among Hispanic students who entered in 2011, the six-year graduation rate stands at 85 percent, 13 percent higher than in 2005, according to the Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment.
“The University of Maryland is proud to be a national leader in closing the achievement gap,” William Cohen, undergraduate studies associate provost and dean, wrote in an email. “The Office of Undergraduate Studies is proud to work with departments and offices across campus that provide support and services to help students graduate — working with students as early as high school all the way through to graduation.”
Among public colleges and universities, the six-year graduation rate was 41 percent for black students and 53 percent for Hispanic students in 2013, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In a 2015 Education Trust report, this university was ranked 16th among public four-year institutions for its 10-year improvement in the gap between white and underrepresented minority students, having shrunk it by 6.1 percent.
Several campus programs have aimed to shrink this university’s achievement gap, including the Black Male Initiative at the Nyumburu Cultural Center, which formed in 2005 and aims to provide role models and encourage community activism for black male students. Ronald Zeigler, the center’s director, said while the gap affecting minority students is shrinking, there is still work to be done.
Zeigler said the Black Male Initiative meets with about 30 black university students monthly to discuss social issues, and holds movie and study nights in McKeldin Library, which sometimes feature black faculty members from various departments who discuss social issues.
“It’s a support group, and lots of researchers talk about the significance and the relevance of having a support group in terms of addressing issues of racism, issues of fitting in as it relates to success,” he said.
Trey Huff, vice president of this university’s NAACP chapter, said the school has “made strides” to address the achievement gap, as have numerous campus initiatives.
“When you’re a minority on campus, you feel kind of alone,” said Huff, a senior biochemistry major. “A lot of the feedback we hear from people is that they like NAACP because they feel like it’s a safe space. … That can cause someone to stay here or cause them to do better in their classes because now they have somebody to study with.”
This university’s Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Education hosts mentoring and tutoring programs for black and Latinx students, including La Familia, College Success Scholars and Sister to Sister, while the Student Success Initiative, a division of Student Affairs, catches students in “financial or academic distress” and connects them with the resources they need, said Tony Randall, a senior manager at the division.
“[It’s] huge because particularly at a large institution like this, a lot of students are really just handled like numbers,” Randall said. “Many students don’t realize that people are invested in their success.”
Having more minority professors could help bolster achievement for minority students, Huff said, adding that the administration should aim to hire and retain enough faculty of color “so that the faculty is a mirror of the student population.”
From 2009 to 2016, the percentage of tenured or tenure-track faculty at this university who are black decreased from 4.8 percent to 4.2 percent, according to this university’s 2017 Cultural Diversity Report. Officials including university President Wallace Loh pointed to retention, rather than recruitment, as the problem area.
Zeigler said more resources might help extend Nyumburu’s reach.
“The issue,” he said, “is one of resources when it comes to doing the things we would like to.”