The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education recently published a report on selective colleges and universities with the smallest gap between white and black students’ graduation rates, and William & Mary was shown to have the smallest gap of all public institutions on the list.
According to the report, which looked at 2013 rates at “the nation’s highest-ranked colleges and universities,” there was a nine percent difference between white and black students’ graduation rates at William & Mary in 2013. The University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were the second-highest-ranked public institutions on the list with an 11 percent gap.
“This is one of those moments where it is important to pause and recognize the success for what it is, and it’s significant. We have reason to be proud,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler. “At the same time, there’s also a goal for us that’s clear: We need to close the gap. We don’t want any gap for students based on their backgrounds or ethnicity. The demographics of our graduating students should mirror the demographics of our student community overall. We want all students to be graduating at the highest rate.”
Vernon Hurte, director of the William & Mary Center for Student Diversity, credits several programs across campus for the university’s success in making strides toward closing that gap, including the Preparing for Life as a University Student (PLUS) program, Tribe Tutor Zone, W&M Scholars Undergraduate Research Experience (WMSURE) and Tribe Athletics’ Academy as well as the support of faculty members like Monica Griffin. Griffin, director of the Sharpe Community Scholars Program, was a first-generation, African-American student at W&M herself, graduating with her bachelor’s degree from the university in 1988 before earning her master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Virginia.
“I believe we’re at a place as a university where we understand this work must be a consistent, collective, campus-wide effort. The more we’ve moved in that direction, the more success we’ve experienced,” he said.
PLUS, which is operated by the Center for Student Diversity, is a summer bridge program that provides incoming students with a one-week, intensive introduction to the academic life at William & Mary.
“Over the last couple of years, it’s been my vision to take PLUS from being, primarily, a summer-only experience to being an initiative that helps students bridge their high school and college experiences and then supports their holistic growth all the way through graduation. We’ve already begun taking steps towards making that vision a reality, developing partnerships with other programs and offices like WMSURE, the Cohen Career Center, and the D.C. Office,” said Hurte.
WMSURE continues that focus on academics by providing students with opportunities to pursue research as undergraduates and then encouraging students to consider graduate work. Co-directed by Professors Anne Charity Hudley and Cheryl Dickter, WMSURE offers multiple workshops throughout the year as well as faculty mentorship opportunities.
The Tribe Tutor Zone, headed by Assistant Dean of Students Nancy Everson, offers students low-cost tutoring by peers. Since its launch, the program has increased its focus on supporting low-income students, said Hurte. That support is made possible through the Parents Fund.
The Academy in Tribe Athletics provides a semester of study sessions, academic planning and workshops for new student-athletes. As a result, many of the Tribe’s student-athletes perform at the same or an even-higher academic level than the general student population, said Hurte.
“All of these programs have really provided the enrichment opportunities for students to thrive academically,” said Hurte. “Over the years, we’ve put significant energy in creating a strong sense of community for all students at the College. Now, we must continue to build on that work to ensure that all students flourish both in- and outside of the classroom.”
Although the ranking was an affirmation of William & Mary’s progress, Hurte hopes to continue working to close the graduate rate gap not only for African-American students on campus, but other underrepresented groups, as well.
“This is definitely something to celebrate, but the reality is that we want to be in that top five.” said Hurte. “The goal is to be at a place where there is no gap, plus or minus, in terms of graduation rates, across the board.”