VCU among Nation’s Best for Increasing Graduation Rates, Closing Graduation Rate Gaps for Blacks and Hispanics

University College plays a critical role in the rising graduation rates

Virginia Commonwealth University has been recognized as one of the nation’s top colleges and universities for boosting graduation rates and closing the graduation rate gap for both black and Hispanic students.

A pair of reports released by The Education Trust last week reviewed minority graduation rates in 2004 and 2010.

The reports, based on a study called “Advancing to Completion,” ranked VCU among the top four public and private institutions nationwide for boosting black and Hispanic student graduation rates and among the top six public and private institutions for closing the graduation rate gap for black and Hispanic students.

“Advancing to Completion: Increasing degree attainment by improving graduation rates and closing gaps for African-American students” found VCU eliminated the gap in graduation rates between black and white students between 2004 and 2010, increasing the graduation rate for black students from 34.5 percent in 2004 to 49.8 percent in 2010, which is about the same rate as white students. The report ranked VCU 16th on the list of “Top 25 Gainers in African-American Student Graduations Rates among Public Institutions, 2004-2010” and ranked VCU 19th in the “Top 25 Graduation-Rate Gap-Closers among Public Institutions, 2004-2010.”         

The companion report, “Advancing to Completion: Increasing Degree Attainment by Improving Graduation Rates and Closing Gaps for Hispanic Students” found that VCU increased graduation rates for Hispanic students by more than 20 points, from 25.9 percent in 2004 to 48.7 percent in 2010. VCU ranked ninth on the list of “Top 25 Gainers in Hispanic Student Graduations Rates amount Public Institutions, 2004-2010” and ranked 12th on the list of “Top 25 Graduation-Rate Gap-Closers among Public Institutions, 2004-2010.”

Joseph Marolla, vice provost for instruction and student success, said VCU’s University College, played a key role in improving the graduation rates for black and Hispanic students and for cutting the gap between their graduation rates and the rates of white students.

“That first semester of a new student’s college career is the best predictor of graduation success. We’ve got one of the most innovative first-year programs in the country,” said Marolla. “But we only start the ball rolling. The rest of the credit goes to other departments and to the university at large for promoting access and opportunity for all students.  VCU’s admission standards are colorblind and that plays a role.”

University College focuses on centralized support system and a cohesive core curriculum for incoming freshman to boost their chances for success.

“Our Focused Inquiry Program helps new students experience a college curriculum in a very short time,” Marolla said.

The Focused Inquiry I and II courses are the central component of the University College curriculum. Those courses target oral and written communication, critical thinking and problem solving, the development of quantitative abilities, information retrieval and evaluation and collaborative work.

Class sizes are limited to 22 students. Marolla said the 43 faculty members teaching at University College are critical to the success of the program and its students.

“They are first class. They took charge of the program and they own it,” Marolla said of the faculty members. “By empowering them, they’ve created a successful program.

The Education Trust supports high academic achievement for students from pre-kindergarten through college and promotes the closure of gaps in opportunity and achievement for low-income and minority students.

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