Getting to graduation

November 16, 2007

Officials at the University System of Maryland are trying to reduce the gap in graduation rates between minority and low-income students and the rest of the higher-education population - a welcome and necessary move. It's good that the state's public university system is making a firm commitment to ensure that all admitted students be given every opportunity to fulfill their academic promise and secure a college degree. The system also wisely recognizes that in the "knowledge economy," if the growing proportion of minority high school students fails to finish college, the state's financial future is in jeopardy.

Nationally, only about 44 percent of black students who started college in 1995 had graduated by 2001 (the latest available figures), compared with 59 percent of white students. Similarly, 49 percent of students from families at less than 200 percent of the poverty level had graduated, compared with nearly 62 percent of students whose family incomes were above that level.

In Maryland, only 46 percent of black freshmen who entered Maryland universities in 2000 graduated from any system campus within six years, compared with 64 percent of all students. At the same time, there's at least a 12 percentage point gap in graduation rates between high-income and low-income students at research campuses such as College Park as well as other campuses such as Towson.

With the expectation that minorities will make up more than half of Maryland's high school graduates by 2014, the gap-closing pace is too slow. That's why USM officials are right to join schools in 17 other states in an effort to cut the gap in half by 2015. Although details of any plan are just starting to be considered, the components will likely include an expansion of remedial programs, individual tutoring and counseling, and need-based financial aid. The solutions must also include improving underperforming high schools as well as earlier preparation of more minority and low-income students for more-rigorous academic courses.

Maryland's universities are right to make a greater effort to close the graduation gap, but responsibility must also be shared by the entire education system.

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