Penn State ranks high in black graduation rates

April 08, 2008

University Park, Pa. – With success in graduating black students, Penn State ranks seventh among top state universities and significantly above the national average of all colleges and universities in the U.S., according to a recent issue of the Journal of Black Higher Education.

"Throughout the nation, African American enrollments in higher education have reached an all-time high," according to the Journal's winter issue. "But nationwide, the Black student college graduation rate remains at a dismally low 44 percent. Blacks are making tremendous progress in improving their graduation rates at flagship state universities, which combined, educate tens of thousands of Black students. Large state universities educate three-fourths of all African American college students in the U.S."

Improving black student graduation rates is a top priority at many flagship state universities. In the flagship state university chart, the Journal analyzed graduation rate data from the NCAA for students who enrolled in 2001 and completed in 2007. The six-year rate is highly representative of the college experience for most U.S. students.

Penn State's University Park campus reported 68 percent of its black students graduating in 2007, just behind only University of Michigan at 70 percent, and Florida and Texas at 69 percent. University of Virginia is top ranked at 87 percent followed by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of California at Berkeley at 73 percent.

Among public universities in the Big 10, Penn State and Michigan are the only two schools at or near the 70 percent threshold and are followed by Illinois (63 percent), Wisconsin (57 percent), Michigan State (55 percent), Purdue (55 percent), Indiana (51 percent), Ohio State (50 percent), Iowa (45 percent), and Minnesota (41 percent). Northwestern University is a member of Big 10, but a private institution.

The Journal also published a chart comparing progress of black graduation rates at flagship state universities between 1998 and 2007, the latest year available. The graduation rate data listed for 1998 and 2007 are the averages of the actual year and of the three previous years to avoid fluctuating figures.

Penn State reported a graduation rate average of 60 percent in 1998 and 68 percent in 2007. Its increase of 8 percentage points ranks 11th behind Big 10 counterpart Ohio State and Indiana University and flagship state universities including Berkeley and Texas.

Many of the colleges and universities with high black student graduation rates have established orientation and retention programs to help students adapt to the culture of predominantly white campuses. Mentoring programs for black first-year students involving upperclass students have been successful at many colleges and universities. Other institutions appear to improve rates through strong black student organizations that foster a sense of belonging among the African-American student population, according to the Journal.

Terrell Jones, vice provost for educational equity at Penn State, notes, "Penn State's high rank and success are related to the University's increased emphasis on minority student access, graduation, and success as evidenced by the goals in Penn State's Framework to Foster Diversity Plan (

The plan provides comprehensive strategic direction to the University's diversity initiatives."

He also points out examples of the many University programs and services that assist students in meeting the challenges associated with attaining a degree.

"The Multicultural Resource Center can help University Park students with a variety of areas ranging from financial aid to academic to personal and family concerns," Jones said. "The Paul Robeson Cultural Center is a home away from home for many African-American students. Also, the Bunton-Waller Fellows and Lenfest Scholars Programs bring high-achieving diverse students at Penn State into the community and offer critical support to these students. Each academic college and campus has staff dedicated to working with diverse students and coordinate mentoring programs with upperclass students and alumni."

Last Updated July 28, 2017