While Georgetown’s graduation rate for the Class of 2010 was among the highest in the nation at 88.9 percent, disparities exist within the university between graduation rates for different racial groups.

White students, who make up the majority of the student body, graduated at a rate of 90.7 percent in four years or less. Asian students represented Georgetown’s highest graduation rate at 92.6 percent, according to data from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

These two rates are each more than 10 percentage points higher than the graduation rates for black, Hispanic and Native American students, who graduated at rates of 78 percent, 79 percent and 75 percent, respectively.

Director of the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access Dennis Williams, who is also associate dean of students, said the disparity is cause for concern.

“There should not be a racial gap in terms of graduation,” he said. “This is something we need to be concerned about.”

Williams attributed some of the discrepancies to aspects of university culture.

“If there is a gap with certain identifiable groups of students, is part of that due to a sense of not fully belonging or less-than-complete ownership in the institution? I believe that’s part of it,” he said.

University Provost James O’Donnell described the numbers as “impressive” but did not believe it was appropriate to specifically compare graduation rates of different ethnic groups.

“There are many factors [that contribute] to graduation rates, and I think just asking at the ethnicity level is very misleading,” O’Donnell wrote in an email. “Our numbers compare very favorably with national numbers and peer institutions.”

Statistics, however, show that the racial disparities among graduation rates at Georgetown are larger than at some peer institutions.

The difference between the university’s overall graduation rate and that of black students for 2010 was 10.9 percent, while The George Washington University reported a 5.2 percentage-point difference and the University of Pennsylvania reported an 8.7 percentage point difference. But Boston College and Northwestern University, for example, had disparities larger than Georgetown’s.

The gap between the university’s overall graduation rate and that of black students has ranged from 7 to 12 percent over the last nine years. The difference between the overall and Hispanic graduation rates, however, has varied more widely over the same time period. While the rate for Hispanic students has been at least 9 percent lower than the overall rate for the past two years, it was higher than the overall rate in 2004 and 2008.

Williams noted that the varying gap between the overall and black graduation rates may be due to the relatively small number of black students at Georgetown. In the university population that would have graduated in spring 2010 after four years on the Hilltop, 6.6 was black.

“One thing to keep in mind is that we’re talking about a pretty small pool,” he said, adding that this means small changes to the number of graduating students have a major impact on reported percentages.

According to Williams, the graduation rate discrepancies are connected to negative socioeconomic and academic stereotypes tied to race. He believes that black and Hispanic students battle an environment that assumes they are less qualified.

“It can create a sense of disadvantage, of not quite fitting in the dominant culture,” he said.

“As an African-American [or] Latino student, you are conscious and suspicious of some of those expectations, and you have to be on guard about those.”

Georgetown Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán President Antony López (COL ’14) agreed with Williams’ assessment, adding that classrooms can sometimes feel like they are dominated by white students and professors.

“I would say a lot of the low numbers can be linked to overall isolation and displacement some Hoyas feel when arriving to the Hilltop,” he said.

According to Director of Media Relations Rachel Pugh, Georgetown offers programs to assist students at individual levels in order to boost the university’s retention and graduation rates.

“Statistically, some groups of students may take longer to graduate or may be more likely to transfer, and we continue to invest in programs to help them succeed at Georgetown,” she wrote in an email.

Compared to the four-year graduation rates, the percentage of students who graduate in six years or less shows a similar gap between the overall rate and the black rate, but a 6.5 percent difference between the overall and Hispanic rates. In 2010, the university’s overall six-year graduation rate was 92.5 percent.

According to Pugh, Preparing to Excel, a pre-orientation program open to first-year and transfer students who are concerned about getting accustomed to college life, is the first program that aims to increase the likelihood of retention.

Other such initiatives include the Sophomore Year Experience, which compiles resources for second-year students, and the Academic Safety Net program, which works to identify students who may be experiencing difficulties and direct them to the appropriate resources.

Williams, however, believes that there is more that needs to be done to address the needs of minority students, particularly academically.

“When we’re talking about broader areas of inquiry and exploration in the curriculum that bring in other cultural dimensions, it builds that recognition of appreciation [of minority groups] here,” he said. “I believe that is another way to help students where there is a graduation gap to feel more at home in the institution.”

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