Embarassing Graduation Rate Data?

I was struck by the title of an article that appears in the Chronicle of Higher Education this morning, “Education Dept. Data Show Rise in Enrollment and Student Aid but Flat Graduation Rates.” Unless the purpose of student aid is simply to boost enrollments, it sounds like some people — taxpayers come immediately to mind — aren’t getting their money’s worth, not to mention the students lured to college who don’t get out.
Moved by curiosity actually to read the article, I was then struck even harder by something that turned out not to be mentioned in it: any reference to graduation rates by race. That omission seems seriously odd, I thought, since race is always on the Dept. of Education’s mind (or whatever), and surely a Dept. of Education report on graduation rates could not ignore racial data, could it?
So, my next stop was the report itself, “Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2008; Graduation Rates, 2002 and 2005 Cohorts; and Financial Statistics, Fiscal Year 2008.” Again, no mention of racial graduation rate data in the Foreword, Introduction, or section on Selected Findings, although the Introduction tantalizingly did describe in detail the difference between the old race and ethnic reporting categories (7 categories: “American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander; Black or African American; Hispanic or Latino; White; race/ethnicity unknown; and nonresident alien”) and the new ones (9 categories: “American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Black or African American; Hispanic/Latino; Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; White; two or more races; race/ethnicity unknown; and nonresident alien”).
I had never realized that “nonresident alien” was a racial category, but detailed discussion of these categories did at least reveal that the report was not oblivious to race. And sure enough, the enrollment and graduation data from the more than 6,700 postsecondary institutions that enroll just under 20 million students and that participate in Title IV student financial aid programs is indeed broken down by race, ethnicity, and sex, right there in plain view in Table 5 on p. 15.
The data are not pretty. Graduation rates for both public and private 4-year institutions:

– Asians/Pacific Islander: 66.1%
– Whites: 59.3%
– Hispanic or Latino: 46.5%
– Black or African American: 38.9%

The numbers for black men were even more depressing, falling to 31% at public institutions.
One can see why Obama’s Dept. of Education did not want to call attention to these numbers. It’s harder to see why the Chronicle of Higher Education didn’t ferret them out.


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