Lack of Money Is the Root of the Grad Gap

Rod Watson, Buffalo News, May 19

The good news in comparing white and minority graduation rates at area colleges and universities is that the gaps, for the most part, are not that out of line with national averages.

But if that’s the good news, we’re all in trouble.

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St. Bonaventure, for instance, graduated 69.2 percent of its students within six years—but only 18.2 percent of its minority students. The figures were 67.5 percent and 40 percent at Canisius; 77.5 percent and 48 percent at Geneseo State College; and 62 percent and 33.3 percent at Fredonia State College. The gaps were much smaller at the University at Buffalo and Buffalo State College, in part because they graduated smaller percentages overall. According to an analysis last fall by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, the nationwide graduation rate for blacks is “an appallingly low 40 percent,” compared with a 61 percent rate for whites. Even most black colleges have rates below 50 percent.

Why the differences?

“The main reason, more than anything else, is money,” said Robert Slater, Journal managing editor. He pointed to college debt and the inability to pay, which forces kids to drop out and “which may affect minority households a lot more than whites.” Local officials also pointed to the challenges faced by first-generation students—another obstacle that disproportionately affects minorities. Schools try to overcome that with programs to help minority students navigate campus life.

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Which brings us back to Slater’s point: money. The Bush administration is pushing changes that would make it tougher to get Pell grants, which help poor kids. George Pataki has cut aid and tried—unsuccessfully so far—to hold back some student loan money until after graduation, which would just compound the money woes that keep minority kids from graduating.

As long as that’s the mind-set in our seats of power, we can forget about closing the graduation gaps, or about building a strong regional economy. You can’t do that as long as so much minority talent gets wasted. In fact, just imagine the outcry if the numbers were reversed.

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