Penn State has been named among six public funded institutions that have seen a significant spike in graduation rates among minority students, according a report by the Education Trust published in late September.
According to the report, Advancing to Completion, Penn State’s six-year graduation rate among Hispanic students was 65.7 percent in 2004, and 77.4 percent in 2010, jumping 11.7 percent. Between 2004 and 2010, the graduation rate among African American students went from 66.1 percent to 75 percent, rising nearly 8.9 percent.
The gap change between Hispanic and white students graduating had dropped 11.4 percent between 2004 and 2010. Whereas the gap change between African Americans and white students graduating dropped 8.6 percent, according to the report.
Terrell Jones, vice provost for educational equality, credits most of the rise of minority graduation to Penn State’s admission of students who want to succeed.
“The problem nowadays isn’t getting into college, it’s getting out,” Jones said.
Jones said Penn State has been doing a much better job of helping the students proactively fix the problems before they arise when it comes to succeeding in college.
“Our job as an institution is to make it a better place for people who normally wouldn’t want to come here,” Jones said.
According to the Education Trust, Penn State students who are African American and Hispanic make up 7.9 percent of the student body. The 2012 six-year graduation rate for African American students is 75 percent and for Latinos it is 77.4 percent.
“The findings in The Education Trust’s study show that the focus Penn State has on minority student retention programs and graduation rates has helped the University’s minority enrollment steadily increase. It’s a sign that Penn State is making significant steps forward with both,” Penn State Spokeswoman Rebekka Coakley wrote in an email.
The Education Trust’s goal is to “close the gaps in opportunity and achievement that consign far too many young people — especially those from low-income families or who are black, Latino, or American Indian — to lives on the margins of the American mainstream,” according to its website.
Mary Nguyen, higher education analyst for Education Trust who was a co-writer for the report, said Penn State is ranked 18th for the biggest improvement of graduation rates among African Americans and 21st for Hispanics.
The report used data from the federal government for all non-profit institutions to see what schools have made the most improvement — in terms of graduation rates among Hispanic and African American students — the schools have made over 2004 to 2010. The report focused on only the top 25 institutions that made big improvements on the graduation rates among Latinos and African Americans and where they compared to graduation rate among white students, according to their website.
“Even though overall, it looks like the [graduation rates] are either slow or stagnant, there are a lot of schools rising above and are making a lot of good initiatives and efforts to improve graduation rates,” Nguyen said.
Posted on the University Budget Officewebsite, for the past four years, the amount of minority students enrolled at Penn State University Park has increased steadily. In 2012, minority enrollment totaled 7,427, compared to 2007 when the enrollment was at 5,350 students.
Some students think Penn State still has a long way to go.
Redesha Piles, second vice president of the Penn State Student Black Caucus, thinks there is still a lot more that should be done.
“What does work for minority students is the large variety of clubs that Penn State has, pertaining to our likes and culture, and that is very helpful in such a large community like Penn State,” Piles (senior-English) said.
In midst of this report, alum David Nevins, Class of 1969, has pledged a $1.1 million commitment to a scholarship fund in hopes to promote diversity in the Smeal College of Business student body.
“There are many thousands of parents in our country who desperately want to help their children achieve a better life, but financial circumstances make this impossible,” Nevins said in a press release issued by Smeal College of Business.
The scholarship will begin helping students immediately and will be doubled by the University’s Trustee Matching Scholarship program.