Black students at UC Riverside graduate at a higher rate than the university's overall student population, new figures show.
Black students in the school's fall 2002 freshman class had a 73.9 percent graduation rate by 2008, while the overall campus graduation rate was 64.3 percent, the university announced yesterday.
University of California officials may want to take a closer look at what exactly the Highlanders of the Inland Empire are doing differently. According to the most recent figures available, the UC System has a 10 percentage point graduation rate gap that persists between black students and the overall population.
About 70 percent of black students graduated within six years from the UC system, compared to about 80 percent of the total population.
In fact, UC Riverside is the only campus in the system where black students have a higher graduation rate than the university as a whole. (Follow the link and click on the university name to see campus-specific breakdowns.)
In their official statement about the rates, UC Riverside officials celebrated the news, even though they couldn't really point to a clear reason for it.
'I'm delighted to see concrete evidence of what we have known anecdotally – that our African-American students are doing as well, or in many instances, better, than UCR students overall,' said UCR Chancellor Timothy P. White. 'However, our goal is to further increase both retention and graduation rates for African-American students as well as for all student groups.'
Campus officials are not entirely sure why African-Americans do so well at UCR, but they believe a critical factor is that African-Americans feel comfortable on the campus, which is the most diverse in the UC system and was ranked fifth most diverse nationally by U.S. News and World Report.
'Critical mass matters,' said White, 'and UCR’s undergraduate student body reflects the face of California.'
It's true that UC Riverside has more black students than other UC campuses. Black students made up 8 percent of the freshman class at UC Riverside in 2008, compared to 4 percent of the system as a whole.
The university was highlighted in a 2008 report by nonprofit think tank Education Sector as one of 94 colleges and universities with graduation rate gaps of three percentage points or less. That compared to a national median graduation rate gap between white and black students of nearly 10 percentage points.
I wondered if UC Riverside was enrolling a black student population that was more academically prepared from the start. But that doesn't appear to be the case. For the entering freshman class of 2002 – the subject of these graduation rates – the average high school GPA of black students was lower than for the general population at UC Riverside. Same thing with average SAT scores.
The LA Times described the university in a 2007 article as the "campus of choice" for many minorities because of the active ethnic communities on campus and a reputation as a place that welcomes minorities.
So why don't more campuses look like Riverside? That's something one professor quoted in the LA Times story wanted to know.
"It's separate, but certainly not equal," said Darnell Hunt, a professor of sociology and director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. "It's the resegregation of the UC system."