Lowering the Achievement Gap for Minorities is Doable

keith cooley informalIn my first blog post I offered that America will run out of an educated, knowledge-base driven workforce within the next 20-25 years, in part, because of our own inability to train America’s future composite majority; Blacks, Hispanics, Arab Americans… those who a part of our communities of color.

“The data show that while, on average, 60 % of white students who start college have earned bachelor’s degrees six years later… only 49 % of Hispanic students and 40 % of black students do.” (http://chronicle.com/article/Reports-Highlight-Disparities/123857/)

In fact, among the colleges with a large gap in graduation rates is Wayne State University right here in Detroit, where fewer than 1 in 10 black students graduate within six years. For white students, the rate is 43.5 percent, more than four times higher (for more info see http://www.jbhe.com/features/65_gradrates.html)

Some schools do better… and some worse, but bottom line is this: If this trend continues, fewer than half of tomorrow’s future majority work force will be “ready, willing and able” to feed America’s grand engine of innovation and production; especially around the critical notions of halting the growth of global warming and growing a mindset for and the manufacturing “chops” to provide sustainable goods and services.

Additionally, my encounters with a wide range of business, academic and community members suggest that most of us believe the inability of low income and/or minority groups to be successful is something beyond our ability to resolve. Typically the conversation lays out a number of reasons why they cannot achieve and suggest strongly that the fault is with them or the system from which they come. Typical comments have been:

  • The educational system from which these students come has failed them. There’s nothing we can do now… the damage is already done
  • The students don’t do well on SAT or ACT tests… how do you expect us to educate them?
  • We’d have a higher percentage of minority college student graduates if we just raised the standards and keep the “dumb” ones out.
  • We have remedial programs in place to address the issue(s). Just give us time and let these programs work.

Frankly none of these reasons for failure hold any water. Seminal work coming out of studies that informed books like “The Shape of the River” (by William G. Bowen, Derek Bok, Glenn C. Loury) debunk these ideas completely. In fact the data show that with the right kind of institutional support including a strong commitment to student success that adopts strategies to promote equity and high academic achievement, students believed to be unable to survive in the university environment actually thrive there.

Schools in which minority students graduate at the same or higher rates than their white counterparts include: Florida State University, University of Massachusetts at Lowell, the University of Texas at Arlington, George Mason University, Georgia State University, Texas A&M and the University of Alabama at Huntsville. (See: http://www.jbhe.com/features/65_gradrates.html)

Simply put… at-risk students in particular and minority students in general CAN successfully matriculate and graduate from our institutions of higher learning IF they are given the support they need and the chance they deserve.

If you’d like more info on solutions that can and do work take a look at an HBCU model for success by Deirdre Ann (nee West) Cooley at: A Call To Action!

Next post will highlight an example of what works through a partnership between Focus: HOPE, a nationally know Detroit civil and human rights organization and the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering.

Keith Cooley is CEO of management consulting firm Principia, LLC. He specializes in creating unique solutions to the tough, expensive problems that keep leadership teams awake at night and especially enjoys working with senior leaders who understand the benefit of seasoned, unbiased and independent professional counsel.

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