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by Agnes Jasinski

It’s a well-known fact that disparities exist when you look at the college graduation rates of black and Hispanic students versus white and Asian students. Two reports released yesterday, however, included data on colleges where those disparities aren’t as wide, suggesting that there are schools that are doing much better than others when it comes to graduating minority students.

The reports, released by The Education Trust and based on several years of database comparisons from College Results Online, looked at both private colleges and public universities. Many of those schools that boast small gaps (or a lack of a gap at all) have programming in place that promotes academic achievement across all student groups, according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. At the University of California at Riverside, where 63 percent of Hispanic students, 67 percent of black students, and 62 percent of white students graduate, administrators have focused on retention and boosting students’ leadership skills to keep them coming back. At the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, where 56 percent of black students and 51 percent of white students graduate within six years, administrators have focused on student success as part of their mission, and believe that it is more cost-effective for the school to have students graduate rather than to recruit new students, according to the reports.

According to an article from Inside Higher Ed, even those poor performers—Wayne State University, where there is a 34 percent gap between graduation rates for white and black students, and California State University at Chico, which graduates about 31 percent of black students, 41.5 percent of Hispanic students, and 57.5 percent of white students—are taking steps to improve their graduation rates. At Chico, for example, those numbers actually represent an improvement after the campus opened a minority student success center. At Wayne State, access to need-based financial aid has been expanded to address a big reason why many at-risk students drop out of college.

Overall, about 60 percent of the country’s white students, 49 percent of Hispanic students, and 40 percent of black students graduate with six years, according to The Education Trust. These new reports, however, show that there are steps colleges can take to improve upon those numbers and to improve retention across student groups.


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Muchas Felicidades, Excelencia in Education

Nonprofit Campaigns to Improve College Graduation Rate Among Hispanics

September 8, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

Right now, a mere 12 percent of all college graduates are of Hispanic descent. Those stats are no bien, if you ask me, but Excelencia in Education is poised to do something about it today when it unveils several nationwide plans to improve college completion among Hispanics.

According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Excelencia in Education says that 50 groups will be joining the campaign; the official policy document will be released in March. "We know everyone has to increase their numbers, but we have so much farther to go," Deborah A. Santiago, vice president for policy and research at Excelencia, said of the Hispanic population. Santiago knows her stuff: The policy brief Excelencia will release today states that young adults who are Hispanic are less likely to be enrolled in college than are other young adults and in 2008, the college-going rate for Hispanic high-school graduates between the ages of 18 and 24 was 37 percent and for all 18- to 24-years-olds, the proportion of Hispanic people enrolled in college was just 26 percent.

Is it possible to increase these numbers? Santiago and her team obviously think so, as does President Obama, who has promised the U.S. will be the world leader in overall college-degree attainment by 2020. To reach that goal, Excelencia says, 3.3 million more Hispanic people than are now projected to complete college would have to earn degrees in the next 10 years. Excelencia will also track the college-completion progress of black and white students on an annual basis in addition to their work with Hispanics, using this year’s the statistical report as a baseline.

We know Scholarships.com is visited by students of many ages, locales and ethnicities so we’d like to hear what you think regarding this matter. What do you think of Excelencia in Education’s plan? Obama’s goal?


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MTV’s New Groove

Music Channel and College Board Launch Financial Aid Contest

September 17, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

Current high school and college students are probably too young to remember when MTV actually played music videos. It was a glorious time for sure but after hearing this next announcement, I think they will like the network’s new direction just fine.

The NYT’s The Choice blog revealed that instead of launching another mind-numbing reality show, the music channel and the College Board have joined forces for the Get Schooled College Affordability Challenge. The contest – which is being underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – is open to current and potential college students interested in creating an innovative digital tool that will help more students obtain funds for school. The prize for the winning individual or team? A cool $10,000, as well as a $100,000 budget to bring their idea to life.

A statement released yesterday stated the contest was created to make it easier for students “to navigate what can be a confusing financial aid maze.” This metaphorical roadmap will definitely be a useful one: Each year, countless students are forced to postpone or abandon their dreams of higher education because they cannot pay for school but the Get Schooled creators hope their program will play a role in raising college completion rates.

The contest will run through December 17th so if you think you have what it takes to win, submit your idea here. Best of luck to all who enter!


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An Important Piece of the Economic Puzzle

Obama Reveals Community Colleges Integral to Recovery

October 6, 2010

An Important Piece of the Economic Puzzle

by Alexis Mattera

Yesterday was a big day for community college students and faculty everywhere and rightly so: Not only did a recent poll reveal four-year colleges may not be the right educational choice for all students but President Obama himself stated that two-year colleges are instrumental to our country’s economic recovery.

Yesterday’s summit was attended by more than 100 community college decision makers and was the first of its kind at the national level, thanks to Second Lady and longtime educator Jill Biden. Two-year colleges were heralded as a bridge to jobs and four-year universities – state and private – alike and a key factor to enrolling more students and boosting completion rates. The summit comes on the heels of Obama’s announcement of the Skills for America’s Future program, which will connect businesses with community colleges to help better match workers with jobs now and into the future. Obama also brought to light a Republican plan proposing to cut education spending by about 20 percent – exactly the opposite of what this country needs if it wants to become the nation with the highest college graduation rate. “We are in a fight for our future,” he added, and community colleges are crucial to boosting degrees and competing with countries that are leading in higher-education attainment.

Community colleges have gotten a bad rap over the years but in truth, they are responsible for a number of outstanding individuals, like this 20-year-old who’s concurrently attending the University of Wisconsin-Barron County and serving as his town’s mayor. Pretty impressive!


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Montana State Aims to Up Graduation Rate

by Alexis Mattera

Montana State University has a glass-half-full outlook when it comes to graduation rates but its students aren’t exactly sharing that mentality: Though the school announced it had enrolled record 13,559 students for the fall semester, only half that number will make it to graduation day.

Graduation rates aren’t that different nationwide – about 57 percent of students who enroll in U.S. four-year colleges earn a degree in six years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics – but these low numbers are cause for concern and in order to reach President Obama’s goal of making America the leader in college graduates by 2020, the country’s public universities need to do whatever they can to shed the label of "failure factories." Things are looking up for MSU for the time being, though: The retention rate for last year's freshmen who returned this fall was 74 percent - 2 points higher than last year and a record for the past 10 years.

So what’s being done in the Treasure State? MSU President Waded Cruzado says she plans to renew attention to the goal of graduation with the help of the Montana Board of Regents by getting more people to earn two-year or four-year degrees. But why are so many MSU students are dropping out in the first place? Despite the less-than-favorable economy, finding money for college isn’t the issue; instead, students surveyed cited lack of direction, affinity/connection with the school and overall interest in college classes. MSU is responding by ramping up its career coaching with freshmen and advising to help undecided students pick a major and launching a campaign to lure back former students who have left the university in the last three years.

The university is doing much more than what’s listed above (check out yesterday’s article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle) but will any of it work? Students leave school for myriad reasons and sometimes no amount of advising, coaching or incentives can change that. Then again, an extra push can make a difference for many students on the fence about their education. How would you respond to MSU’s initiatives?


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Colleges With the Highest Graduation Rates

by Suada Kolovic

Acceptance letters should be rolling in for the majority of high school seniors and the pressure of deciding where to go is definitely on. A lot goes into deciding what school is the right fit for you, but if you’re interested in what schools have the highest graduation rates...then boy do we have the list for you. And sure, these institutions do have quite impressive graduations rates but keep in mind that high graduation rates don’t necessarily translate into a surefire path to success. It’s also important to note that the majority of schools that made the cut are prestigious and students accepted to the likes of Harvard aren’t likely to dropout.

The study, conducted by College Results Online, a website which uses data from the National Center for Education Statistics and Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, ranked U.S. colleges in terms of 6-year graduation rates. Check out the top colleges and universities with the highest national graduation rates below and click here for the full list as well as profiles of each school.


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Why Students Drop Out of College

New MSU Study Cites Key Risk Factors

February 17, 2011

Why Students Drop Out of College

by Alexis Mattera

It may seem counterintuitive to work hard throughout high school, score well on your standardized tests, get accepted to your first-choice college and wrangle enough financial aid to pay for your education only to drop out before graduation but it does happen. What causes this academic 180? That’s what researchers at Michigan State University revealed in a new study.

The team, led by MSU assistant professor of psychology Tim Pleskac, used a mathematical model to analyze surveys from 1,158 freshmen at 10 U.S. colleges and universities. The surveys listed 21 "critical events" and students were asked whether any of the events happened to them in the previous semester; later, the students surveyed were asked whether or not they planned to drop out. Among the top risk factors reported were depression, loss of financial aid, tuition increases, unexpected poor marks and roommate issues. Other "critical events" like family deaths, failure to get into a specific program of study, significant bodily injury and addiction, however, were less likely to impact a student’s decision to leave school. "Prior to this work, little was known about what factors in a student’s everyday life prompt them to think about withdrawing from college," Pleskac said. "We are now better suited to think about what students we should target in terms of counseling or other assistance to help them work through these issues."

Would any of the factors listed above effect your choice to drop out of college? If they did, do you think you would eventually return to obtain your degree?


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DePaul Joins the Test Optional Club

University Says Standardized Testing is Out, Essays are In

February 18, 2011

DePaul Joins the Test Optional Club

by Alexis Mattera

Standardized testing is as much – if not more – a part of the college process as dancing when the fat envelope arrives, Facebooking your new roommate and shopping for extra-long twin sheets. That will no longer be the case for DePaul University applicants for the freshman class entering in 2012 because the Chicago school has announced its plans to make the reporting SAT and ACT scores optional.

But don’t start shredding your test prep materials into confetti just yet: Students choosing not to submit ACT or SAT scores will be required to write short responses to essay questions designed to measure "noncognitive" traits, such as leadership, commitment to service, and ability to meet long-term goals. These essays were introduced a few years ago and subsequent research convinced the admissions committee that the nontraditional measures did more than the ACT or SAT to predict the success of low-income and minority students at the university. Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management, said he wants to encourage applicants with high grade-point averages but relatively low standardized test scores to apply and believes the new method will allow his colleagues to better select applicants who are most likely to succeed and graduate.

DePaul is now the largest private university to join the FairTest list, joining Wake Forest as one of the most selective institutions to adopt test-optional policies. Do you think giving students the choice to report their scores will produce the results DePaul expects? What do you think is a better barometer of qualified applicants: test scores or essays?


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Arne Duncan’s Ultimate Bracket Challenge

Sec. of Ed. Calls for Increased Graduation Rates for Post-Season Eligibility

March 17, 2011

Arne Duncan’s Ultimate Bracket Challenge

by Alexis Mattera

Selection Sunday has come and gone and your brackets should be ready to go. You’re probably feeling pretty confident about your choices and talking a bit of trash to other participants in your pool (I am...I went to UConn) but if Arne Duncan has his way, those brackets could look very different in the near future.

The Secretary of Education proposed that NCAA teams failing to graduate at least 40 percent of their players are barred from post-season tournament play. The impact would be significant – based on the annual study conducted by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, men's teams from Arkansas Pine Bluff, Baylor, California, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico State, Tennessee and Washington would all be ineligible this year (that’s nearly an entire region of participants wiped out) – but Duncan is confident teams will find this "low bar" relatively easy to clear and believes the rule would immediately improve academic results.

Of course, there is some pushback: An NCAA spokesman said the rule would unfairly penalize current players for graduation rates of students from previous years and the NCAA already imposes academic sanctions on schools that fail to maintain education standards under the Academic Progress Rate. Most schools offer extra assistance to student-athletesXavier’s Sister Rose Ann Fleming makes all players attend at least 10 hours of study hall every week and Maryland spends more than $1 million every year to support student-athletes' academics, a number that doesn’t reflect its 8-percent graduation rate reported by the UCF study – but it’s not enough for Duncan. "If you can't graduate two out of five of your players, I just think your priorities are out of whack," Duncan, a former Harvard basketball star, said. "What it tells me is there is a lack of institutional commitment."

In your opinion, is Duncan’s full-court press a good idea or is the current zone defense on academics working just fine? Would you invite him into your bracket pool?


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GOP Congressman: Pell Grants are Becoming ‘The Welfare of the 21st Century’

by Suada Kolovic

The GOP is no stranger to controversy and Friday’s interview with Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) was no exception. In a radio interview with Blog Talk Radio, Rehberg went on a rant in which he compared the Pell Grant Program – the nation’s largest financial aid program – to the likes of welfare and denounced the fact that students who receive them don’t have a graduation requirement. "You can go to school, collect your Pell Grants, get food stamps, low-income energy assistance, section 8 housing, and all of a sudden we find ourselves subsidizing people that don’t have to graduate from college.” Rehberg added under the federal program, a student could "go to school for nine years on Pell Grants and you don’t even have to get a degree."

Jason Delisle, director of the Federal Education Budget Project at the New America Foundation, took issue with Rehberg's comments. "I don't know if it's a fair characterization that someone has decided to go through the hoops of applying to college, getting enrolled and showing up every day because it's the welfare lifestyle," he said. "If the issue is people are being lazy and living off the dole, so to speak, I don't think their first step is to enroll in college."

For the 2012 fiscal year, the Pell Grant program is set to exceed $40 billion. Some lawmakers have been exploring ways to reduce the cost of the programs by lowering the maximum grant size – which is currently $5,550 – or restricting eligibility. In Montana, Rehberg recently voted for the House GOP budget resolution, which would reduce the maximum Pell Grant to $4,705 and narrow the eligibility of applicants. If you’re eligible for Pell Grants, what do you think? Are Rehberg’s assumptions out of line?


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