In light of Black History Month, the disproportional African-American populations and graduation rates at universities across the nation are brought to attention.
Currently, throughout national higher education institutions, African-Americans graduate at a lower rate than any other race — including at the University of Nevada, Reno.
The Center reported approximately 3.2 percent of undergraduates at the university identified as African-American in fall 2017. During the same year, around 2.76 percent of black students received their degrees in four years.
“Research shows that financial aid and personal problems as an issue,” the student development coordinator in The Center, Jody Lykes said. “ I think we look at black student retention as what programming are we doing. Black student retention depends on our campus climate. Supporting black students has been more than programming. When you think of the Center, it’s not just this physical place. We support all students. It’s been a strong place for people to come and feel comfortable. It’s a place of resource. I’ll do my best to make you feel more connected so they don’t feel isolated. When you look at a diverse group of black students, they need diverse needs.”
Although black students attainment of their bachelor’s degree has increased since the 1960s from being less than 5 percent to 23.9 percent in 2017, African-American students continue to lag behind other races. A 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Education found only 21.4 percent of African-American students graduate in four years compared to other races.
“I do feel a little discouraged to graduate from the university because as an African-American person, there’s really no emphasis on the black college experience unless the community of African-Americans creates it,” Faith Thomas, a junior at the university said. “The university can invest in African-American students by hiring more African staff. By showing that there is more administration that looks like us, it will motivate us to stay here. People like Dr. Paul Mitchell have deeply inspired me and I was excited to learn that I would be able to be taught by someone who’s shared a similar experience as I have. With the correct support, black students can be successful at this PWI (predominately white institution).”
Some individuals blame high-school graduation rates for the cause of lower enrollment and graduation for African-Americans in higher education and blame financials to play a role as well.
In 2012, Nevada had 48 percent of African-Americans graduate high school and California had 66 percent African-Americans graduate high school. In 2017, the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, an organization dedicated to investigating the status and prospects for African-Americans in higher education, found there were over 9,234,000 African Americans were living below the official poverty line in the United States — which is 22 percent of the entire Black population in the United States — while 8.8 percent of the non-Hispanic White population were in poverty.
“High dropout rates appear to be primarily caused by inferior K-12 preparation and an absence of a family college tradition, conditions that apply to a very large percentage of today’s college-bound African Americans,” the JBHE said in their study. “But equally important considerations are family wealth and the availability of financial aid. According to a study by Nellie Mae, the largest nonprofit provider of federal and private education loan funds in this country, 69 percent of African Americans who enrolled in college but did not finish said that they left college because of high student loan debt as opposed to 43 percent of white students who cited the same reason.”
Historical Black Colleges and Universities — higher education institutions who cater to teaching African-Americans students academically and culturally — have also seen a decrease of percentages of bachelor and master degrees awarded to black students even though they have seen an enrollment increase.
“I graduated from UNR in the spring of 2004 after four wonderful years,” said university alumni Tya Mathis-Coleman. “I was a Political Science major. I had an amazing experience during my undergraduate years. I was actively involved in several on-campus clubs and organizations and I was an elected ASUN officer for two years. I never felt discouraged to graduate. The faculty and staff always encouraged me to do great things both inside and outside of the classroom. One thing the university can do to increase African American graduation numbers is to continue to recruit a strong diverse group of freshmen students each year. By increasing your diversity numbers you will ultimately graduate more students. Retention is just as important. Make sure students are supported and encouraged while on campus. Stay encouraged, work hard and own your own destiny.”
Although African-American graduation rates are lower in most colleges and universities, including Historical Black Colleges and Universities, black students who attend elite institute graduate at a higher rate than any other race. The top five universities where African-American graduation rates are higher than any other race include Wellesley College, Bryn Mawr College, Colby College, Mount Holyoke College, Swarthmore College.
On campus, there is an organization trying to help increase the number of African-Americans graduating.
Black Culture Cooperative is an organization located in The Center aimed to increase the outreach, recruitment, retention and graduation rates of African-American students. They offer study space, assistance with selecting courses, assistance with understanding financial aid, academic support and career advising by African-American staff members. BCC also advertises other African-American based clubs, Divine 9 fraternity and sororities and other multicultural Greek life on campus. These include Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, Delta Sigma Theta sorority, Lambda Phi Xi Multicultural sorority, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity alumni chapter, Ambition Beauty Leadership Equality Women, Black Student Organization and Sisters on a Move.
Currently, BCC is hosting Black History Month. These events include “The Hip-Hop Stop”, “Blacktivism”, “Say it Loud”, “Hoops and Hood Culture” and the “#1000BlackGirlBooks Display.
Taylor Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.