You are on page 1of 5

Page 1 of 5

Blacks Dropping Out Despite Special

The Graduation Gap: A Detroit News Special Report
Colleges retention of blacks dismal
Analysis shows just 40% of blacks graduated compared to 61% of whites in Mich.
By Janet Vandenabeele, and Jodi Upton / The Detroit News
African-American students are dropping out of Michigan universities at rates far greater
than whites, adrift at schools that vigorously recruited them.

A Detroit News investigation of seven Michigan universities shows that among black
students who were freshmen in 1994, just 40 percent got their diplomas after six years,
compared to 61 percent of white students and 74 percent of Asians.
Were throwing them out after taking their money and theyre getting nothing out of
it, said Barry Mehler, a history professor at Ferris State University, who helped start a
program to keep minority students in college. Were mugging (the majority) of them,
taking their money, taking their dignity.
I feel like I am participating in a vast criminal conspiracy.
The falloff between white and black graduation rates here raises high-impact issues,
because Michigan sits in the epicenter of the national debate over affirmative action in
college admissions:
The states universities have special programs aimed at helping black
students meet financial, social and academic challenges, but graduation rates
for blacks havent improved consistently over the past decade, The News
Universities knowingly admit students who have a high chance of failing.
Michigan has presented itself as a test case for affirmative action in higher
education, but the state is no national model on how to retain black students.
Experts blame a variety of reasons for high dropout rates among African-American
students, from money to inadequate academic preparation to an unfriendly campus
A lot of students dont feel like theres a true effort to make universities diverse, said.
Bryan Cook, a doctoral student who advises black fraternities at the University of
Page 2 of 5
Michigan. They think its a show commitment and the programs they offer are
Knowing why blacks are dropping out doesnt mean the universities are on top of the
Its the nature of the beast, said Lester Monts, U-Ms senior vice-provost for academic
affairs. We just dont have a handle on this. Most universities dont have a handle on
this at all.
When Mario Harper of Oak Park looks at pictures from his freshman year at Michigan
State University, he realizes that a lot of African-American classmates who started with
him are no longer around.
There are so many whove just dropped out of sight, nowhere to be found, said
Harper, an MSU senior who graduated from Shrine Catholic High School in Royal Oak. I
make sure I do the best I can. I want to get rid of that stereotype of the lazy black
male. But it is a lot of pressure.
Better than average
U-M, Michigan State and Central Michigan are the only Division I schools in Michigan
whose black graduate rates are better than the national average which, at 39
percent, is nothing to brag about. The reason: They are the more selective, and tend to
get better-prepared and better-financed students.
The 10 years worth of data analyzed by The News shows that the more selective a
university is in choosing its students, the more likely its students are to graduate. Thats
clearly illustrated by U-M, whose admission standards are the states toughest.

Conversely, those that are less choosey about admissions have higher dropout rates.
Of the seven schools studied by The News, the graduation rate for black students is
highest at U-M (about 64 percent over the past decade) and lowest at Oakland
University (about 22 percent).
That compares to white graduation rates of 86 percent at U-M and 43 percent at
Oakland University.
U-M, cheered on by other Michigan universities and blue-chip corporations, currently is
defending legal challenges to its admissions policy, which favors black applicants over
whites and Asians with stronger academic credentials. The case is likely to be decided
by the U.S. Supreme Court.
U-M administrators and supporters say a diverse student body is crucial to the quality of
education and to the total college experience of all students.
Page 3 of 5
Dropout figures, however, show theres not much racial diversity left, by the time
students are upperclassmen.
Example: When U-M freshmen began in 1993, 67 percent of the class was white and 9
percent black. By graduation, the percentage of African-American students had fallen by
a third, to just 6 percent of the class.
Graduation rates among black students are worse at MSU, Central, Eastern Michigan,
Western Michigan, Northern Michigan and Oakland universities. The News reviewed 10
years of graduation rates at NCAA Division I schools, because those are the only ones
for which national rates are kept. (Wayne State University has not kept dropout records
by student race until recently; the first set of six-year figures will be out next year.)
Hispanic and Native American students also leave Michigan colleges at rates higher than
whites, and are equally courted by selective schools such as Michigan and Michigan
State. But their graduation rates tend to be higher than those of African Americans.
College administrators recognize the moral dilemma of recruiting black students,
knowing their high chances of failure.
We want to make sure we arent just pushing people in. Thats unethical from my
standpoint, said Lee June, MSU vice-president for student affairs.
Pay their own bills
While high dropout rates are commonly blamed on poor academic preparation, thats
not the whole story, some educators believe.
Minority students tend to come from less affluent families, so when the financial aid
check doesnt come, or the grant doesnt cover all the college bills, parents are less able
to bail them out.

Black students may have to work longer hours at a job to pay their own bills, or to help
out with a family crisis. Study time suffers.
Because fewer family members have even attempted college, black students may find
themselves alone when it comes time to make a decision to stay in school, or quit.
Chandra Cross gave Wayne State University a try last year. But her dreams of a degree
in computer science collapsed amid the weight of tuition payments.
Hoping to afford tuition working full-time at a Wal-Mart in Taylor, Cross was surprised
to learn that students still have to pay for classes they drop. After a few semesters,
Cross left. Shes now working at a Burger King in Dearborn Heights.
Page 4 of 5
The classes were too big and you always had to run around trying to find your
professors, she said.
But not everyone blames the universities. Some minority students fall victim to the
same thing white students do: too much freedom.
I just didnt go to class, said Tyra Lumpkin, a Detroit student who attended several
semesters at Oakland University in 1999-2000. I had become real lax and wasnt
concentrating on school.
A few professors asked about her when she quit attending, but Lumpkin said she was
aware of no programs designed to make sure she stayed in school.
There were no black professors and most of the people in my classes were white, but
that wasnt the problem. It was me. said Lumpkin, who hopes to attend Alabama State
University this fall.
Recent good times may actually have worsened the exodus of minority students, said
Rodney Lopez, a counselor in Wayne State Universitys Chicano-Boricua Studies
When the economy is doing real well, they find good jobs and they like the money, he

In the long-run, however, the high African-American dropout rate is costly for
taxpayers, as well as for the students themselves.
If they graduated at the same rate as their white counterparts, minority students would
earn an additional $5.3 billion a year, according to a study done by the National Center
for Public Policy and Higher Education.
And the state, already tightening its belt as the economy contracts, would be getting an
additional $1.9 billion in tax revenues from those college-degreed, higher-paid workers.
Intimidating atmosphere
For some black students who have grown up in neighborhoods and schools with few
whites, a predominantly white campus can be intimidating and unwelcoming.
Sometimes theres a disconnect between universities and students of color, said U-M
graduate student Bryan Cook. Its not that universities dont have a desire to enhance
diversity. But sometimes, those efforts backfire and dont work to make life for black
students easier. That can be alienating.
Page 5 of 5
Rina Henry of Detroit said she had little trouble adjusting to campus life at Wayne
State. The bills were tough, though: She worked two jobs and paid the school $600
every two weeks.
Henry, a computer science major, left Wayne State about six months ago, but plans to
return soon.

I liked it, but if anything, I wish there was more hands-on teaching with the
professors, she said. You sit down in class, they write on the blackboard and tell you
to do this, do that, read this, read that.
University officials acknowledge they need to make the whole campus atmosphere less
threatening for everyone whites and minorities alike.
The only way you foster true diversity and plurality is to foster interactions between all
the groups, said Glenn McIntosh, director of Oakland Universitys Office of Equity.
(This) will lead to (producing) leaders of the 21st century. They will be more
Creating a climate that embraces diversity, at a time when race is a national obsession,
is a continual challenge, MSU provost Lou Anna Simon said.
Do students believe there is a climate issue? Of course. Even when we do something
(to encourage tolerance) students live in a larger society. We get 10,000 new students
every year, each with their own perceptions, she said.
Overcoming long-ingrained ideas of social, academic and economic class may prove
more challenging than simply throwing money into a new program.
Mehler, who heads the Institute for the Study of Academic Racism at Ferris, which was
not among the colleges studied by The News, says dont underestimate the impact of
stereotyping and racism.

You have many professors who simply are racists. Their racism is based on their
intellectual perception of reality, Mehler said.
Said Bill Bloomfield, a veteran of several national programs for minority high school and
college students: You need (change) sunk into the bedrock of the institution from an
administrative, budgetary and cultural perspective.
The issue isnt so much that the kids dont have the oomph to pull it off. It aint the
kids problem.