The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is one of the nation’s best four-year institutions in substantially improving graduation rates for African-American students, a newly released national report shows.
Nebraska was No. 11 among four-year public institutions in the report, authored by the national advocacy group The Education Trust. The university is underlined for its 10-point reduction in the achievement gap between white and black students between 2003 and 2013. In that timeframe, the university saw a 4.5 percent increase in overall graduation rates and a 13.7 percent increase in graduation rates for African-American students.
The report, published March 23, is titled “Rising Tide II: Do Black Students Benefit as Grad Rates Increase?” and is the second comprehensive Education Trust study in recent months to note how Nebraska has stood out in improving graduation rates for traditionally underserved and underrepresented minority students.
The first report, published in December 2015, showed that the university led the nation in narrowing completion gaps between white and underrepresented minority students over the same 10-year timespan.
Amy Goodburn, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and interim dean of enrollment management, said the university’s gains can be attributed to several factors, including efforts to boost retention of all students, and special programs that focus on mentoring and support for underrepresented minority and first generation students. For instance, OASIS – the Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services – and the William H. Thompson Scholars Learning Community both provide academic success classes, peer mentors and program staff, and social, academic, and cultural programming for students who receive various scholarships, many of whom are underrepresented minority students.
In recent years, UNL has created several retention programs and services, including the Office of First Year Experience and Transition Programs, the Military and Veteran Success Center, the First Husker Program for first generation students, and the implementation of the MyPLAN advising system. Those additions complement a number of of existing initiatives including TRIO.
“This recognition underscores the university’s commitment to increasing African-American access to – and success at – UNL,” Goodburn said. “While we are pleased to be improving graduation rates and closing the achievement gap, we know there is more work to be done, and we look forward to continued improvement. As a land-grant institution, we are committed to providing academic access and opportunity for all students.”
Initiatives and programs to provide academic and social support for African-American students began with the creation of the Culture Center in the early 1970s. While this program began with support from the Athletic Department, the value and need for this support system was realized by the larger university community, said Jake Kirkland, director of OASIS and the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center. More recent student support programs, such as OASIS and the Gaughan Center, are the beneficiaries of the creation of the Culture Center.
The Education Trust promotes academic achievement, particularly for students of color and with low incomes. In the new study, the organization found that completion rates for African-American students increased at almost 70 percent of the 232 public, four-year institutions that improved overall graduation rates from 2003 to 2013.
However, at more than half of those institutions, African-American students’ gains were not as large as those for white students. Fifty-two institutions, including Nebraska at No. 11, were lauded for significantly improving overall graduation rates while also accomplishing gains for African-American students.
“We applaud the leadership at University of Nebraska-Lincoln for working to improve graduation rates for black students — and close gaps between white and black students — over the last decade and have highlighted your institution for pointedly addressing completion among black students as an example for others to follow,” said Jose Luis Santos, vice president of higher education policy and practice at The Education Trust.
“Institutional leaders can’t be satisfied with overall gains – or even just with any increase for black students,” Santo said. “Leaders must strive for accelerated gains among black students so they can catch up to their peers. Thankfully, there are institutions across the country that are showing the way forward.”