At UC Riverside, black students narrow the achievement gap
LOS ANGELES — The graduates wore traditional caps and gowns, but they didn’t sit quietly awaiting their diplomas or form a solemn processional to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.”
They strutted, showcasing dance moves to a rap beat. They cheered Nigerian and Abyssinian dance troupes. They got to their feet for a rousing spoken word performance. They whooped as speaker after speaker reminded them of what they’d just accomplished.
“The statistics were against you, but you prevailed and I am so, so proud of you,” Sharee Hughes of the school’s African Student Programs told them.
The 76 participants in the recent Black Graduation ceremony at the University of California, Riverside exemplified a striking achievement: The campus has one of the smallest racial achievement gaps in the nation. African-Americans at Riverside graduate at rates similar to that of whites and Latinos and just below Asian-Americans.
The six-year graduation rate in 2015 for students who started and finished at UC Riverside was 73 percent for blacks, 71 percent for whites, 69 percent for Latinos and 77 percent for Asian-Americans, according to campus data.
Other UC campuses have higher black graduation rates. But in a study this year of 676 public and private campuses, UC Riverside ranked first in California and sixth in the nation in outperforming universities with similar student populations. The Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.based nonprofit, said UC Riverside showed consistent success, with a 69.5 percent graduation rate averaged over three years (2012-2014), compared with an average of 48.4 percent at comparable universities, such as the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of North Carolina and Virginia Commonwealth University.
The University of Illinois at Chicago, the study noted, accepted similar students and more African-Americans. But the black graduation rate at the Illinois campus was about 30 percentage points lower than Riverside’s, and the gap between black and white students in graduating from the school was nearly 20 percentage points higher.
“Their performance is amazing,” said The Education Trust’s Andrew H. Nichols, the study’s co-author. “Other university presidents and provosts should look to Riverside to see what they’re doing to promote such success.”
Kenneth Simons is a Director of African Student Programs at University of California Riverside.