Minority graduation to national average ‘unacceptably low’

By Joe Bush

More than 54 percent of freshmen at state public universities in 1980 graduated by 1988, according to an Illinois Board of Higher Education study.

Board of Regents member Clara Fitzpatrick said the 60 percent graduation rate of non-minority students is comparable to the national average. Steve Bragg, IBHE associate director of academic affairs, called the minority figures “unacceptably low.”

Less than 30 percent of blacks and Hispanics graduated by 1988, either from the school at which they began their higher education or one to which they transferred. Of those that graduated, most completed their education in five years. One-fifth of these students took six years to earn their degrees, while 60 percent of non-minority students graduated in four years.

Bragg said the minorities problem exists in all facets of academics. “At every step of the education ladder, minorities are under-represented.

“If they graduate from high school, they don’t graduate from college. If they graduate from college, they can’t get into graduate school,” he said.

Reasons for these results cannot be found in one place, Bragg said. He mentioned lacking high school preparation, elementary education, financial aid and support programs as possible causes.

“There are no easy answers, no quick fixes,” Bragg said.

At NIU, 18 percent of the black students that started at NIU in 1980 graduated by 1988. Thirty-nine percent of NIU’s Hispanic students did the same.

A related study concerning the number of minority students transferring from two-year schools to four-year schools showed black and Hispanic students represent a higher percentage of the enrollment at community colleges than at public or private four-year schools.

Ann Bragg, associate director of the State Higher Education Executive Officers, the group that funded the study, said this disparity was caused in part by the lack of information, guidance and encouragement minorities receive concerning universities.

George Gutierrez, director of NIU’s Undergraduate Resources for Latinos, said his organization assists Hispanics in their transition to campus life. This fall, there are about 180 Hispanic freshmen that his department will try to contact during their adjustment periods, he said.

“We tell them ‘Hit the books first and study hard and if you have needs, we will try to provide for those needs,” Gutierrez said.