Published: May 1, 2008
The graduation rate of minority students, particularly Hispanics and African-Americans, is lagging behind that of their white counterparts, according to the American Council on Education. However, the statistics show that Fordham, especially Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), is defying the national trend.
In fact, according to the Rev. Robert R. Grimes, S.J., dean of FCLC, the latest available statistics for students entering FCLC in 2001 and graduating within six years, show that African-American students graduated at a rate nearly 40 percent higher than the national average, one identical to that of white students, at 82.1 percent. In regards to retention of Hispanic students, Grimes said, “Even in our low year, we were 20 points above the state average [of 48.1].”
According to a recent study conducted at the University of California, Davis, the national college completion rate of African-Americans has dropped from 38 percent in 1975 to 33 percent in 2004, with the rates for Hispanics dropping from 40 percent to 34. The study on retention rate cites many possible reasons for the drop in the college completion rate for minorities, including an increased likelihood that minority students are the first in their families to attend college, and therefore may require increased financial assistance in order to complete a degree program. Grimes cited similar reasons that all students, regardless of race, would leave college before graduation. “We very strongly encourage faculty members to report to the class dean [about] any students that they think are having problems in class… We’re always looking at retention of all of our students.”
Mathew Rodriguez, FCLC ’11, said that he’s seen the tendency for minorities to drop out elsewhere, and offered an explanation for the trend. “I’ve seen Hispanics and blacks graduate at a lesser rate in my own high school. My high school was 46 percent Hispanic, and I saw so many held back and staying past their time in high school.”
As for the reasoning behind this trend in colleges, Rodriguez said, “I’m sure, in some way, it has to do with affirmative action. In an effort to increase minority attendance at colleges, many are admitting more minority students. However, our economy the way it is, I’m sure many of them are finding out after their first year at college or so that they may not be able to pay for it, [and they] become disenchanted and would rather work for the immediate dollar than invest in more ‘future’ dollars,” he said.
Rodriguez also stated that he believes that this trend may occur more among black and Hispanic students simply because of the lower economic status of many minority families in comparison to “upper-middle class white students.”
This trend, however, does not appear to be taking place at Fordham. According to Grimes, the most recent available statistics for students entering college in 2001 and graduating within six years state that African-Americans graduated at a rate of 82.1 percent, a number identical to that of white students. Hispanics were not far behind at 68.8 percent. He also offered statistics that demonstrate a higher minority population at FCLC as opposed to Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) and the College of Business Administration (CBA) in the Bronx.
The freshman class that entered FCLC this fall was six percent African-American and 16 percent Hispanic, compared to four percent African-American and 11 percent Hispanic at FCRH. Grimes offered one reason for the higher number of Hispanic students in comparison to African-Americans: “that there are more Hispanic Catholics than there are African-American Catholics—not that everyone who comes here has to be Catholic.” He did say, however, that the major Catholic feeder schools in the area are made up of a large proportion of Hispanic students.
The honors program at FCLC is highly competitive, capping enrollment at 16 top students per class year. The class of 2011’s honors program, according to a student in the program, has African-American and Hispanic students enrolled at a rate of 20 percent.
Anne Mannion, chair of the honors program at FCLC, said she’s proud of the diversity among the honors students enrolled in the college. She said there is no kind of screening process for demographics, so the class makeup, with a “decent representation” of varying racial backgrounds, is a totally natural occurrence, based on those students who decide to accept the invitation to the program. She also noted that the only major reason she’s seen an honors student leave the college is a simple case of homesickness. “We hold on to them,” she said.
There are many opportunities for minority students to get ahead at Fordham. The College Board is offering assistance to high-achieving Hispanic students with its National Hispanic Recognition Program (NHRP), which recognizes the highest scores on the PSAT/NMSQT among Hispanic students. Fordham has a policy of offering full tuition scholarships to those students who are recognized as National Hispanic Scholars.
Rodriguez is one of these students. Rodriguez, however, said that he thinks NHRP students will attend college regardless of whether or not they receive a scholarship, “because they’re obviously talented academically.” He continued, “I think it’s smart for colleges to offer scholarships like this, though. Colleges can kill two birds with one stone: Higher SAT scores and help their demographics.”
The Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) is a resource for New York residents who “demonstrate potential for academic success,” according to its Web site. The HEOP offers educational support and financial assistance to students who might not otherwise have been able to afford to attend a college or university.
Though there are no publicly posted statistics about the racial breakdown of students in the program here at Fordham, Grimes did say that three Hispanic HEOP students, all female, won prestigious fellowships last year. He also said that HEOP has had higher graduation rates than regularly-admitted students, though these figures, like many others, often vary from year to year.
Citing both university and college-wide statistics, Grimes said, “We certainly are doing much better than any other type of institution in the state.”