YSU still struggles to graduate minority students

by Jordan Uhl

Originally published on JordanUhl.com Feb. 16, 2015

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Fewer than 10 percent of black students at Youngstown State University graduated within six years. Photo by David Duran/flickr.com

In March 2012, I first wrote about Youngstown State University's horribly low minority graduation rates. Since then, blacks haven't experienced much success at YSU, academically, despite being roughly 15 percent of the student population.

YSU's Office of Institutional Research has the information available, but doesn't make it easily available on its website. The most recent information they provide is the 2006 cohort.

After requesting for and examining the 2006, 2007 and 2008 cohorts, the numbers were bleak.

Under 10 percent of blacks who enroll actually graduate within 6 years.

The report for the 2008 cohort claims four black students graduated within four years but on the sex breakdown neither the male nor female category listed any graduates. (See here.) I've reached out for clarification on the discrepancy on the numbers provided by YSU's Office of Institutional Research.

Update: A representative of YSU's Office of Institutional Research said the Department of Education requires institutions to list categories of two or fewer persons as "N/A." When asked to confirm whether the representative could confirm two males and two females graduated within four years, they said they could neither confirm nor deny.

I've uploaded the reports for 2006, 2007 and 2008 here, here and here, respectively.

The total six-year graduation rates for all minorities were 12.6, 13.2 and 14.99 percent for 2006, 2007 and 2008 cohorts.

In comparison, six-year graduation rates for white students were 36.9, 38.5 and 38.36 percent for the same cohorts.

Comparatively, at the University of Akron, six-year graduation rates for the 2006 cohort are 45.6 percent and 18.8 percent for whites and blacks, respectively.

At YSU, there's clearly a support issue. Whether it's insufficient education at the high school level or discouraging students with remedial education, there's a problem here.

"I taught a 1539—the 'lowest' remedial writing course—and of the 18 students in the class, 3 passed. I could tell right away that most of the kids didn't have any business in college," Jay Gordon, a YSU english professor, said. "Anecdotally, I learned that I was not alone—the very low pass rate was common for this course. And since the admissions standard has changed, the course is almost gone from the books—there may be one section. So the problem is being addressed in some ways."

Gordon said his students in the remedial course weren't prepared for the rigors of college, but also had intermittent attendance and rarely completed assignments. He suggests students who would require remedial courses attend Eastern Gateway Community College then transfer to YSU when they're ready.

In Fall 2013, 308 black students were admitted into YSU. In Fall 2014, only 175 black students were admitted, a 43 percent drop. With the university's newly adopted status as "open access" (see here) instead of "open enrollment," they aren't letting black students in who formerly would have been admitted. And keeping in line with Ohio Governor John Kasich's higher education initiative (see here, here and here), YSU has since cut back on remedial course offerings and instituted admissions standards. Still, something needs done to boost the numbers.

Allowing students who have no chance at graduating in, not providing them with support and proper guidance does a disservice to the community by saddling young blacks with debt immediately after graduating high school. It's a systemic issue that widens the divide between blacks and whites and ultimately holds the community back from advancing collectively.

What can be done? What should YSU offer students to boost graduation rates? Is the problem insufficient education at the high school level and being forced to take remedial courses at YSU? What is the issue, and what's the solution?

That's exactly what I've asked YSU's administration. I've reached out to several key decision-makers on campus—Jack Fahey, Sylvia Imler, William Blake, Ron Cole, Gary Swegan and Jim Tressel—and received only promises of information from some. Follow-ups have gone unanswered.