Forty years after a major milestone for African-Americans at UNC, the University’s black males are suffering from exceptionally low graduation rates.
Richard Epps, who is now deceased, became the University’s first black student body president 40 years ago today, during a time when barely 60 black students walked the campus, said Pam Campbell-Chisholm, a friend of Epps.
Epps’ success was a testament to UNC’s growing accessibility for African-Americans. But today University administrators have shifted their focus to a different concern—fostering academic success for black males while also maintaining the historic accessibility.
UNC’s four-year graduation rate is just 49.2 percent for black males, compared to a 70.8 percent graduation rate for white males, according to a 2010 study.
Taffye Clayton, who became UNC’s vice provost for diversity and multicultural affairs in February, said the University is looking for solutions.
“We have to study the research that exists and determine what are the models of success that are out there?” she said.
But Clayton said the issue clouds not just UNC, but the nation, and the University needs to look for partners around the country to work with on this problem.
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bruce Carney said the low graduation rates are a product of economic need.
“Needy students generally don’t do as well as non-needy students,” he said.
UNC’s Carolina Covenant program aims to aid students in this situation. It allows participating students, whose family income must fall at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, to graduate debt-free.
Race isn’t the only factor that might have a bearing on the lagging graduation rates, Carney said. Males as a whole graduate at lower rates than females.
The four-year graduation rate for black females is 71 percent, about 22 percent higher than their male counterparts. Meanwhile, there is about a 10 percent difference between the graduation rates of white males and white females.
Moving forward, Clayton said the issue of academic success for black males needs to become a national one.
“As we look at issues of African-American challenges to the African-American community we have to look at that as a challenge to the American community,” she said.
“It is about race, but it’s also about the entire American society.”