California ranks high in national study about black college students but criticism remains

University of Southern CaliforniaProfessor Shaun Harper of the USC Race and Equity CenterUniversity of Southern CaliforniaProfessor Shaun Harper of the USC Race and Equity CenterCalifornia scored third highest in the nation in a new study that seeks to rank public universities on the basis of enrollment and graduation of black students and their numbers compared to black faculty.
But that score is not reason to celebrate, says the lead author, University of Southern California professor Shaun Harper.
To be sure, some California universities did well, especially UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, UC Riverside, Cal State Monterey Bay and Cal State Fresno. Still, Harper said that the state’s overall score, equivalent to a “C” grade, actually was mediocre and that its national ranking was the result of other states doing even worse.
“It’s not that California is exceptional. It’s that the rest of the United States, including California, can and should do better,” said Harper, executive director of the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center. The center published the report, “Black Students at Public Colleges and Universities,” which is being released Tuesday.
The schools were judged by four factors: the difference between the percent of black undergraduates at the school and the percentage of black residents, age 18-24, in that state; the difference between the six-year undergraduate rate of blacks and that of other students; the ratio of full-time black undergraduates among all undergraduates compared to the ratio of full-time black faculty among all faculty; and the enrollment gap between black undergraduate men and women compared to the gender gap across all groups.
The study, using those federal statistics, then created a somewhat complicated formula for final evaluations for each of the 506 schools included. Some university officials are sure to debate some of the factors chosen in what the study called equity index scores.
Some individual University of California and California State University campuses were scored among the best in the country. Some others were given less than stellar rankings, mainly because of overall low enrollment and graduation rates of black students.
UC San Diego tied for first place in the nation, with University of Louisville and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Four other California universities — Cal State Monterey Bay, UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Fresno and UC Riverside — were also ranked among the highest scoring 36 in the country. No one factor elevated those top-scoring schools, although they tended to show strong black graduation rates and good ratios of black professors.
While no California campus was in the bottom groupings or received any F grades, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Humboldt State, Cal State East Bay, Chico State and San Jose State received scores below the national average for various reasons. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, for example, was given D grades for enrollment numbers, graduation figures and gender comparison but an A for the factor comparing the numbers of black faculty to black students.
Combining campus scores within each state, California placed third, after Massachusetts and Washington. All University of California and California State University campuses were included. (Wisconsin was listed the worst in the composite of its schools’ scores, with Missouri and Maine just above the bottom.)
Harper, who is an education and business professor at USC, said that the best-scored California schools should be recognized but he said that overall the state’s results are not “a reason for celebration.” He likened the situation to a student who ranked third in his class but whose parents still need to know that it is “a low performing class.” He co-authored the report with Isaiah Simmons, a research associate at the center.
Even if Harper is not impressed with California’s score, the state’s relatively high ranking may surprise some education activists since California voters in 1996 approved Proposition 209, which forbids race to be considered in admissions to the state’s public colleges. In the years right after that vote, the numbers of black and Latino students fell dramatically at UC. In recent years, they have mainly rebounded and for Latinos gone beyond that level, due to demographic shifts.
The report notes that black Americans disproportionately are low-income and lack access to high-performing K-12 schools. It also emphasizes that “higher education helps sustain (and in some instances, exacerbate) these inequities.” It says that “faculty members and leaders on too many campuses are bad stewards of the public good, at least as it pertains to black students.”
The study urges admissions officers to recruit for black applicants beyond traditional cities and supplier high schools and says state legislatures and university systems should invest more resources into programs that “specifically prepare black students for college admission and success.”
The study said that 39.4 percent of black students completed bachelor’s degrees at public institutions nationwide within six years in 2016, compared to 50.6 percent of all students nationwide. On average, nationwide there are 42 full-time degree-seeking black undergraduates to each black faculty member at public schools.
Some of the disparities in the report are reflected in data reported by both UC and CSU. The overall six-year graduation rate at CSU was about 59 percent in 2016, according to a university report. The rate for black students was 43 percent, compared to 54 percent for Latinos, 65 percent for Asians/Pacific Islanders and 67 percent for whites.
UC reports its overall six-year graduation rate to be about 84 percent by last year. The UC rate was 75 percent for black students, about 77 percent for Latinos, 89 percent for Asian and Pacific Islanders and 86 percent for whites.
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