Report: University leads in retention of underrepresented students

Report: University leads in retention of underrepresented students
Education Trust highlights Nebraska's progress as nation's best

Lizzette Osorio (left) and Lea Henry pose for a photo before UNL commencement at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Dec. 21, 2013. A report issued by the Education Trust group showed that UNL is a national leader in improving graduation rates for underrepresented students.
Craig Chandler | University Communications
Lizzette Osorio (left) and Lea Henry pose for a photo before UNL commencement at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Dec. 21, 2013. A report issued by the Education Trust group showed that UNL is a national leader in improving graduation rates for underrepresented students.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is highlighted in a newly released report for its achievement in helping underrepresented students succeed on campus.

The Education Trust, a national advocacy group that promotes academic achievement, particularly for students of color and with low incomes, released the report – “Rising Tide: Do College Grad Rate Gains Benefit All Students?” – on Dec. 2.

In the report, which examined 255 U.S. higher education institutions, Nebraska topped a list of 26 universities that narrowed their completion gaps significantly between white and minority students between 2003 and 2013. During that time, the university closed its gap by 15.2 percentage points.

The university improved graduation rates for all students while making rapid gains with minority students – it improved 18.79 percentage points, compared with 3.62 for white students. The university’s rapid graduation rate growth among underrepresented students also is notable because during the same 10-year period, it also steadily increased diversity in its student body.

On a national level, Education Trust found that during the decade studied, underrepresented students’ graduation rates increased only slightly more than for those of white students – 6.3 percent compared with 5.7 percentage points, respectively. That means that nationally, the completion gap between white and minority students has narrowed by less than 1 percentage point in 10 years.

Also, a 14-percentage-point gap in completion remains between underrepresented and white students, according to the report. At Nebraska, that figure is roughly 10 percent. See the full Education Trust report here.

Amy Goodburn, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and interim dean of enrollment management, said a number of factors have contributed to the university's improvement in this area. She said UNL’s increased investment and focus on overall retention has had an effect, as has the university’s commitment to move students toward a degree more quickly.

“Our faculty and staff are dedicated to supporting success for all students. We aren’t satisfied, though,” Goodburn said. “We are relentlessly focused on improving graduation rates and further closing the achievement gap because we take seriously our land-grant mission to excel in teaching and serve the needs of all Nebraskans.”

The report noted the university's proactive efforts in student advising and degree-planning, creating communities for first-year students and using data to improve curricula. The university also has developed several retention programs and services over the past four years, including the Office of First Year Experience and Transition Programs, the Military and Veteran Success Center and the implementation of the MyPLAN advising system. The additions complement a number of other initiatives.

“What’s most exciting is that we are closing the achievement gap while we are attracting more underrepresented minority students to the university,” said Amber Williams, Nebraska's director of admissions. “This year’s entering first-year class was the most diverse in the university’s history. And four years from now, we want to celebrate this class as they graduate.”

Nick Banks reacts after UNL graduates moved tassels on their mortar boards during winter commencement exercises on Dec. 20, 2014. A recent UNL focus on improving retention rates for all students is among factors that helped the university become a national leader in improving graduation rates for all students, including those from underrepresented groups.