While ACU’s freshmen class is 21 percent ethnically diverse, the university may have trouble keeping minority students until they graduate, according to a report by the Education Trust.
ACU had the seventh largest six-year graduation gap between black and white students of 163 private nonprofit colleges across the country, according to the study. The report, titled “Big Gaps, Small Gaps: Some Colleges and Univeristies Do BetterÂ Than Others in Graduating African-American Students,” found that ACU had an average graduation rate of 60.1 percent of white students, compared to 33.8 percent of black students – a 26.3 percent gapÂ – from 2006-2008.
This compares to the national six-year graduation rate average of 60 percent of white students to 40 percent of black students – a 20 percent gap. The average for private colleges and universities was 73.4 percent of white students to 54.2 percent of black students – an 18.7 percent gap.
The study’s limitations
While ACU does face the national problem of graduating ethnic minority students, the Education Trust’s study was subject to several flaws and limitations, said George Pendergrass, director of student multicultural enrichment.
“I don’t think it’s reflective of what’s actually going on,” Pendergrass said.
ACU was one of only 163 private colleges and universities across the nation that met the minimum requirements for ethnic minority student enrollment to even be considered in the study, Pendergrass said.
However, the study did notÂ consider theÂ percentage of ethnic minority students enrolledÂ – for which ACU is recognized every year as meeting and exceeding national standards – in colleges’ ranking once they met the requirement, said Hayley Webb, director of student retention and services.
The study also did not reflect the changes ACU has made to improve the retention and graduation rates of all students over the past 10 years, Webb said. It examined the graduation rates of students who enrolled at ACU in 2000-2002.
Over the past decade, ACU created an Office of Retention, an Office of Multicultural Enrichment, a multicultural leadership program called LYNAY, and made efforts to specifically recruit ethnic minority faculty in response to the graduation discrepancy, Webb said.
Webb said someÂ schools onÂ the list of 25 private universities with the largest black-white graduation rate gaps did not have much greater racial graduation disparities than other universities in the study. One university made the list with a gap only 0.1 percent larger than the national average.
“The difference of being on the list or off the list is likely a matter of only one student,” Webb said.
ACU’s problem still real
Despite the study’s shortcomings, ACU’s difficulty in keeping black students is a very real problem, said Alvina Scott, senior social work major from Arlington. As last year’s president of the Virtuous African Heritage Sisterhood, Scott saw ACU’s retention gap played out in her club’s membership.
“More than half of the girls of VAHS left between the fall and spring of last year,” Scott said. “They were just gone.”
While ACU is strong in its number of multicultural clubs, the groups cannot solve the problems minority students face, Scott said. Finances were part of the reason some black students left ACU, Scott said, but the real issue was the lack of multicultural faculty and mentors for minority students.
“You can find the money to come back to ACU, but do you really feel connected to the school?” Scott said.
Seeking out ethnically diverse faculty was one of the highest priorities of the Ethnic and Cultural Enrichment Committee, Pendergrass said.
“The biggest one that I believe that we are going to make a difference in over time is bringing in more faculty and staff of color, but that’s really a tough nut to crack,” Pendergrass said.
ACU’s isolated, small town setting makes recruiting new faculty difficult, Pendergrass said. While ACU will need time to overcome the hurdles to close the graduation and retention gap for minority students, Pendergrass believes the university will continue its ongoing progress toward multiculturalism.
“We cannot just look at the numbers and say, ‘Well, we’re not where we should be,'” Pendergrass said. “We’re not, but we’re miles from where we were.”