Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Pitt News - Minority graduation rates lagging

Not a joke.
The Pitt News - Minority graduation rates lagging: "Minority graduation rates lagging"

Becky Reiser Staff Writer

Published: Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Graduation rates for Pitt’s minority students are almost 20 percent lower than those for white students. But Pitt isn’t the only school in the state experiencing this trend, which experts say traces back to grade school.

Information compiled by the state Department of Higher Education indicates that in 2007, the graduation rate, which measures the proportion of students who graduate within six years, for black students attending Pitt and its satellite campuses was 43.8 percent, while Pitt’s non-minority graduation rate was 62.3 percent.

Marilyn Barnett, an educational consultant and chairperson of the education committee for the NAACP of Pittsburgh, said that the disparity of graduation rates stems from problems in education beginning at the kindergarten level.

"The education gap causes polarization and low graduation rates," said Barnett.

Ishioma Opia, a member of the African Student Organization and the Black Action Society who will graduate this month, said she’s seen glimpses of this.

When the minority graduation rates are lower, she said, "It’s not because the classes are too hard. Some students don’t make it for financial reasons or because they transfer out."

Barnett said she believes the philosophy driving education is flawed. Most universities, she said, don’t spend enough time discussing ways to education people from all backgrounds in their classes.

"Teachers tell me they teach without seeing color — but they should see color!" said Barnett. "There is no effort to make students feel welcome. There is no diverse faculty, no history of all cultures. This turns kids off early, and you can see this as early as fourth grade."

Barnett described the "horn effect," which is when underrepresented groups’ grades decrease while other people’s grades increase.

The solution, she said, is to hire teachers who care and will hold their students to high standards. This strategy has prompted an increase in minority enrollment at private and charter schools.

Opia said that college students often face a different set of challenges than grade-schoolers and thinks part of the reason the minority graduation rates are low is because students tend to change their course of study.

"Students end up switching majors as juniors to try and secure a future," said Opia. They might realize that their field isn’t lucrative.

Job placement also causes students to strive for more degrees to become more appealing in the job market.

Opia is completing a major in rehabilitation science and two certificates, one in West European studies with a concentration in Spanish and one of pathokinesiology in rehabilitation.

"I have friends completing like, five majors so they can get a job," said Opia.

Barnett suggested that students would be more likely to graduate within six years if they are aware of the challenges they face.

"Under-represented groups need to understand their history, like civil rights," said Barnett. "There needs to be a psychological change in their minds to understand the social and political impact of civil rights."

Barnett said students shouldn’t use the struggle for equality as an excuse for delaying graduation or failing. Rather, they should use it to motivate themselves.

"People do overcome those models," she said, referring to Pitt’s statistics.
Some have said that the Pittsburgh Promise is but a bad April Fools Joke as too many of our kids that do go to college are not well prepared and are dropping out. So sad.

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