Eleanor Chute, Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh), Nov. 21, 2006
The Education Trust yesterday released a report which focuses on the main campuses of 50 public flagship universities — one in each state regarded as the most prestigious. It gave seven of them an F overall and gave none an overall grade higher than a B.
“These institutions, more than any other, have a special mission, that is to prepare the future academic, business and political leaders of their state. Who they exclude actually matters,” said Kati Haycock, director of the trust and co-author of the report.
“There are many more students out there these institutions could be attracting if they were committed to very aggressively recruiting these students and funding them in a way that would facilitate them being able to attend,” said Danette Gerald, a senior research associate for the trust and co-author of the report.
Terrell Jones, vice provost for educational equity at Penn State, said there is more work to do, but “I think we’re making decent progress here.”
The trust report counts what it calls under-represented minorities — African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans. The percentage of those minority students at Penn State has grown by 38 percent at the main campus over a decade.
The report states that the percentage of freshmen in those categories in fall 2004 was 8.2 percent, compared with 15 percent of the high school graduating class statewide that year.
Dr. Jones said the university has a variety of programs aimed at reaching potential students as young as junior high age and helping students achieve success once at Penn State.
But it is hard work. He said about half the students choose college environments similar to those where they grew up, so urban students aren’t likely to choose rural schools. In addition, he said, students of color tend to be at the two ends of the state and many of them are in segregated, inadequate public schools.
He said the main issue doesn’t involve race but rather first-generation, low-income students — disproportionately people of color who have difficulty paying for college.
“If I had more money, I could graduate a lot more students and I could attract a lot more students,” he said.
In addition to Penn State, a failing grade overall was given to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, University of Arizona, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Mississippi, University of North Dakota and University of Rhode Island.
While some received A’s in individual categories, the highest overall grade of B went to four schools: University of Hawaii at Manoa, University of New Hampshire, University of New Mexico and University of Vermont.
In between were schools such as Ohio State University, which received a C, and West Virginia University, which received a D.
The report also highlighted national data showing that the college-going rate of low-income students with the highest achievement levels (78 percent) is about the same as the rate for high-income students in the lowest achievement levels (77 percent).
It also noted that grants for students without financial need have been growing at a faster rate than those for students with need.