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Nov. 09, 2012
CONTACT: K. E. Schwab

SRU's improved black student graduation rate eighth among public institutions

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - By posting an 18.4 percent improvement in black student graduation rates between 2004-10, Slippery Rock University is ranked eighth in the nation among public institutions showing substantial gains, according to The Education Trust.

The Education Trust has a mission of promoting high academic achievement for all students at all levels -- pre-kindergarten through college. "Its goal is to close the gaps in opportunity and achievement that consign far too many young people -- especially those from low-income families or who are black, Latino, or American Indian -- to lives on the margins of the American mainstream."

The report showed SRU's six-year black student graduation rate in 2004 was 25.7 percent, but improved to 44.1 percent for 2010, ann improvement of 18.4 percent. The overall six-year graduation rate was 60.6 percent.

"Our success in this area is primarily due to having a clear set of goals, building a campus culture focused on improving student learning and success and using data and meaningful assessment information to drive decisions which help us to reach the goals. Our recruitment and retention efforts are guided through a campus community and culture, which cares about improving student learning and success. No single individual, initiative, effort or department brings these results about alone. It takes a community with a vision for improving overall student learning and success," said Amanda Yale, associate provost for enrollment services.

"I am pleased The Education Trust is tracking this information. It is an aid to those of us at Slippery Rock University as we work to improve our graduation rates for all students and African-American students in particular. I am aware of the effort we are putting into this goal and it is gratifying to see that our work is paying off, not only in our numbers, but also in the benefits to students. We will continue to both monitor and find further refinements that will allow our numbers to continue to increase," said Cheryl Norton, SRU president.

Yale said, "Efforts to engage our students in our institutional community begins long before classes begin. For example, we start connecting prospective students with the faculty through the students' academic interests early in the recruitment process."

"We follow these efforts by connecting students to orientation programs, which help them to understand the process of college transition. SRU's spring/summer orientation programs and the Jump Start programs are excellent examples. Once students begin classes, we offer a series of programs and services that help them through the first-year experience. These programs include freshman seminar, learning community clusters, tutoring, academic advising, multi-cultural programs, peer-mentoring, student leadership and involvement programming, living-learning community experiences, to name a few," she said.

"Many of these services continue through the years of the students' college experience. Our Retention Services staff have in place many interventions that help connect students to tutoring, faculty advising, career counseling, personal counseling, financial aid and more," Yale said.

"Most importantly, it is critical to note that our faculty play a key role in our recruitment and retention strategies. Their interactions in- and out-of-the-classroom with our students are important. I find our faculty and staff are dedicated to our students' success. Our upper-class students are dedicated to helping new students transition successfully. Many individuals across campus are involved in improving student learning and success. As a mind-set, it is part of our culture. It's what we do daily," she said.

The institution's strategic focus to improve student learning across the campus and in- and out-of-the-classroom have enabled SRU to achieve its results. "We continually seek an understanding of the best practices and how well they will work in our institutional culture and with our students. The campus community has set goals, developed and implemented plans, and monitored our progress toward making these types of improvements," she said.

"We use data a lot to determine what is working and what needs our attention. We facilitate self-study projects, continually review our policies and procedures, and never rest on past successes. Improving student learning and success is what leads to improved retention throughout the years and improved retention is what leads to improved graduation rates," Yale said.

"Improving graduation rates and completion rates is a campuswide responsibility. It's not about lowering standards or expectations. Rather, it is about setting high expectations with high levels of strategic and systemic support; It clearly takes a village," she said.

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education has set as one of its primary goals the overall improvement of enrollment-to-graduation rates for all students entering system schools.

"SRU has taken that goal to heart and is working hard to further help students succeed. We have seen steady improvement, and we hope to continue increasing our graduation rate in coming years," Yale said.

Other well-known public higher education institutions included in The Education Trust top 25 public institutions for improving their black student graduation rate include California State Polytechnic University, Towson University, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, New Mexico State University, Texas Tech University, Iowa State University, Indiana University at Purdue, the University of Massachusetts, Central Connecticut State University and Rutgers University.

California University of Pennsylvania saw the most improvement among public institutions during the 2004-10 period, posting a 33 percent gain in its six-year graduation rate for black students.

The report noted that by 2018 the nation is projected to need 22 million new college degrees; 63 percent of the jobs are also projected to require a post-secondary degree. "And the only way we can make progress toward that goal is to improve performance among our diverse student populations."

"Colleges must do more to ensure success for all students, particularly the growing number of black and Latino students in our country. Thankfully, some institutions are showing us that the status quo is not inevitable," said José Cruz, vice president for higher education policy and practice at The Education Trust. "The lessons are clear: What institutions of higher education do -- and don't do -- for students directly and powerfully impacts student success. The schools we've identified provide vivid sign posts on the road to boosting graduation rates at colleges and universities across the country."

"While we have done better over the past 40 years in opening the doors to higher education to many more of our country's underrepresented minority and low-income students, plain access isn't enough. We need to do much more to ensure those students continue to succeed both in and after college. In particular, demographics demand a greater focus on ensuring the success of our African-American students. While nearly 40 percent of white 25-29-year-olds have attained at least a bachelor's degree, attainment among young African Americans is only one half that rate," the report said.

In writing about higher education institutions that have seen improvement in their numbers of black student graduating, the report said, "Our nation will be well-served if more colleges and universities validate and replicate the equity-minded policies and practices of those institutions that are getting it done."

The complete report is available at:

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.