The Education Trust, a national education advocacy group, announced today that Eastern Connecticut State University ranks number one in a national study of the improvement of six-year graduation rates of Hispanic students among public universities and colleges, according to their report, "Advancing to completion: increasing degree attainment by improving graduation rates and closing gaps for Hispanic students."
The Education Trust study examined the graduation rates of 391 public and private colleges and universities in the United States, detailing the results for African American, Hispanic and white students, as well as the overall graduation rates of all students at those institutions.
For the class of full-time, first-time students entering in fall 1998, the six-year graduation rate was barely 20 percent for Hispanic students at Eastern. However, for those Hispanic students entering in 2004, the proportion who had graduated by 2010 was 57.8 percent, the largest improvement among the 228 public institutions in The Education Trust study.
"Colleges must do more to ensure success for all students, particularly the growing number of black and Latino students in our country. Thankfully, some institutions are showing us that the status quo is not inevitable," said José Cruz, vice president for higher education policy and practice at The Education Trust. "The lessons are clear: What institutions of higher education do -- and don't do -- for students directly and powerfully impacts student success. The schools we've identified provide vivid sign posts on the road to boosting graduation rates at colleges and universities across the country."
Eastern's 57.8 percent graduation rate for Hispanic students is actually above Eastern's overall graduation rate of 52.4 percent for the entire entering class of 2004. In addition, Eastern's improvement rate of 37.8 percent far exceeds the overall improvement rate among the study's 391 institutions of 3.5 percent, as well as the 3.9 percent improvement rate among the study's 228 public colleges and universities.
"While we know that there is much more work to be done on our campus in supporting Latino and other underrepresented students to achieve their educational goals and graduate from college, I am very pleased with today's announcement," said Eastern President Elsa Núñez.
"This is a tribute to the work of our faculty and staff in providing support to students who face a myriad of issues in enrolling in and succeeding at college -- language barriers, cultural isolation, financial challenges and lack of family history as it relates to college attendance."
"Raising the graduation rate for Hispanic students by nearly 40 percentage points in only six years is no small feat, and President Núñez and her team deserve an extraordinary amount of credit for relentlessly focusing on the success of all of the students at Eastern," said Robert Kennedy, president of the Board of Regents for Higher Education of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities. "This level of performance helps expose and shatter the myth that demographics are destiny in college completion and educational success. As we focus on encouraging and supporting more students to finish their degrees across our institutions, this news is a timely reminder that success isn't bound by demographics."
Núñez mentioned several grants from private and federal grant sources that have helped Eastern to identify and serve students who are academically at risk so that appropriate support systems can be activated early on. In particular, a Nellie Mae Education Foundation "Project Compass" grant and a U.S. Department of Education Title III grant have helped the University to create and improve its Student Success Model, which features additional advising staff; a revised, four-tiered advising system; faculty mentors; and a one-stop Academic Services Center that provides tutoring, math and writing instructional support for more than 10,000 student visitors a year.
"In addition to these two impressive grants, students from low-income families, including many of our Hispanic students, have benefited from the generous support of corporate and private donors giving to our ECSU Foundation," said Núñez.
The Eastern president also noted that in addition to students with academic challenges, higher-performing Hispanic students are also staying at Eastern for their entire college experience as they find the University's liberal arts program and student leadership opportunities on campus to be challenging and rewarding.
"It is equally important for students of color to see familiar faces at the front of the classroom," said Núñez, indicating that Eastern has the largest percentage of minority faculty of any college or university in Connecticut.
Eastern also has two pre-enrollment programs each summer for students who may not meet the University's standard entrance requirements--the Summer Proof of Ability Program, which offers an opportunity to demonstrate academic potential, and the Summer Transition at Eastern Program/Contract Admissions Program, which provides intensive instruction in study skills and foundation academics to help low-income, first-generation and traditionally under-represented students transition from high school to college.
"All of our programs work together to support students with special academic needs," explained Núñez, "and most of them are available to serve all our students. Clearly these strategies are working in support of Hispanic students as a special cohort. We are gratified that the hard work of our faculty and staff, as well as the students they serve, is paying off. It is strong motivation to continue our efforts to ensure educational access and success for students from all walks of life."
The stakes involved are high. As The Education Trust report noted. "...while nearly 40 percent of white 25- to 29-year-olds have attained at least a bachelor's degree, attainment among young Hispanics is only one-third that rate. These disparities are unac-ceptable. If America is to restore its status as first-in-the-world in degree attainment, colleges need to do more to ensure that all of their students -- especially Hispanic students -- graduate from college."
Echoing Núñez's comments that it takes a multi-faceted approach to have a long-term impact on student performance, The Education Trust report declared, "Only when colleges institutionalize the policies and prac¬tices that make programs for underrepresented students successful will they bring about a transformative process that benefits all students, and Hispanic students in particular."