According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the graduation rate for African Americans attending a two year college is 23 percent. The average graduation rate for African Americans attending a four year college is even lower at 21 percent.
LPC recently shared its statistics regarding student success rates among different races of students. A glaring statistic was that African American students were at the bottom of almost every statistical category given.
Some of those statistics include course success rates, Fall to Fall retention rates and student withdrawals during the 2019-2020 school year. The statistics are eye opening, especially in the time of COVID19 where all students are having a harder time adjusting to distance learning.
Success rates for African American students were at fifty eight by the end of Fall semester 2019. Fall to Fall retention rates were at fifty five percent and student withdrawals were twenty percent for Spring 2020.
Historically at LPC, African American students have been at higher risk for not graduating. President Dyrell Foster is in the second semester of being LPC’s President and he very well could be one of the most influential President LPC has ever had. Covid-19 has not made his job any easier, but one of the issues at the top of his list is how to improve graduation rates for African American students.
“Do I feel a responsibility to help Black students? Absolutely. There needs to be a sense of urgency from me and the college to fix this issue,” said Foster.
According to the study done by LPC, African American students withdrew from classes at a much higher rate than any other race of students. The withdrawal rate was 24% for African American students while the next highest was Hispanic students at 16%.
The course success rate for African American students also dropped in the 2020 Spring Semester from 67% to 60%. LPC historically has had low year to year course success rates for African American students in the last five years with 2019 having a success rate of 58%. This is a regression as African American students were at a success rate of 63% just two years ago.
Though the numbers were trending upwards for African Americans students two years ago, they were still very low considering where other races of students were around the same time. In 2017, Asian student success rate was at 75% and white student success rate was at 73%. The average student success rate for that year was 72%.
President Foster, who’s been at community colleges throughout the state, believes that the issue of African American students not succeeding is not solely on the students themselves.
“It is an institutional responsibility. There has been a narrative in the state community college system that it’s the students’ responsibility. Regardless of how they come to us, we have to meet them where they are, and we’ve got to help them through. We can no longer say these are our expectations, and they either meet it or they don’t. We also have to make sure we provide the support that they need to get though,” said Foster.
An area where African American students are struggling nationwide is in mental health. In a study done by Boston College, 40% of their African American student population met criteria for a type of mental health disorder. Additionally, 7 million African Americans have reported to have some type of mental illness in 2019. There is also a disparity in the treatment rates for African American students. White students who were diagnosed with a mental health disorder were able to get treatment 46% of the time while African American students were only able to get treatment 21% of the time.
“We need to figure out a way to put our services out there so that all students can take advantage of them. We need to see how students in Umoja or BSU (Black Student Union) can know that they have access to the services we provide,” said Foster.
Though the numbers are alarming, there are programs in place trying to help aid African American students.The Umoja program which was launched 2017, helps guide African American students through the community college experience at LPC through counseling and learning about the African American experience through history and English courses.
The Black Student Union is a club that raises awareness for issues that concern African American students on campus. They have held on campus protests in the past and the club has been a reliable resource for African American students on campus.
LPC also surveyed students on how comfortable they felt on campus. 72% of African American students said they felt safe on campus. The number isn’t that alarming at first, but compared to other races, the number is significantly lower. 89% of Hispanic students said they felt comfortable on campus as well as 90% of white students.
“The bigger question is why these students feel this way. I would like to talk to more (African American) students to see why they are uncomfortable and what we could do better,” said Foster.
The African American student success rate at LPC has been on a downward trend in the past decade. Even when success and graduation rates have risen, they are still far below average.
Foster, a person of African American descent, feels the need to address this issue immediately. COVID-19 and the adjustment to online learning have been on the top of LPC’s priorities, but the issues of African American students are a pressing matter.
“One of my passions that I have carried with me to LPC is my commitment to equity and social justice. I care about bringing success to all students at our campus, but there is also attention I am paying to African American students on our campus. I am truly looking forward to the work we are going to do,” said Foster.
Nathan Canilao is the editor-in-chief of The Express. Follow him @nathancanilao.