Black and Hispanic college students earn significantly lower grades than their white and Asian-American classmates, according to an Education Department study. in 2003-04, 19.3 percent of whites, 12.7 percent of Hispanics and 9.6 percent of blacks earned mostly A’s; 24 percent of whites, 34.6 percent of Hispanics and 40.7 percent of blacks earned mostly C’s or lower. The performance gaps are even wider at selective colleges, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education, “especially at the highest achievement levels and among students majoring in mathematics, engineering, the sciences, and technology-related fields.”
Until recently, most college leaders have been reluctant to talk about the performance gap, but some are now sharing data and looking for solutions.
Many college officials who are working to close the performance gap say the initial impetus for their efforts was the 1998 publication of William G. Bowen and Derek Bok’s The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions (Princeton University Press). Based on their analyses of data from 28 selective colleges, Mr. Bowen, a former president of Princeton University, and Mr. Bok, a former president of Harvard University, extensively documented race- and ethnicity-linked differences in achievement . . . They also found a strong correlation between undergraduate grades and future earnings, with black students who earn low grades suffering more, in terms of their future earnings, than white students with comparable academic records.
Skidmore College is one of the few to develop a program that helps minority students earn higher grades. Disadvantaged students with marginal SAT scores take intensive writing, intensive math and philosophy in a summer boot camp. Students are shocked that work that earned A’s in high school gets D’s in college. “It was like I had been living a lie most of my life,” a Mexican-American student says.
Vaughn Greene, a black junior who enrolled through the Higher Education Opportunity Program and has served as a head resident in the dormitories during the past two summer institutes, says many students at first fail to take the summer program seriously. After getting slammed with D’s and F’s on their first papers, however, “they realize it is time to switch gears and actually do something because these people aren’t playing.”
At Minding the Campus, Anthony Paletta marvels at college administrators’ reluctance to admit they’ve been admitting underqualified minority students.