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Graduation Rate Gap Widens at State Universities

According to new study findings released today, African-American students are falling farther and farther behind their peers in graduation rates at state universities in Maryland, even in spite of the universities' best efforts to work against such an outcome.

The state university system reported that 40 percent of black students earn a degree within six years of entering college, compared with 65 percent for all students. That 25-point gap is a significant increase over three years ago, when the gap was 15 points.

Officials said the system is enrolling thousands more African-American students and particularly more lower-income students who often have to drop out for financial reasons. Despite those challenges, officials did not hide their frustration at the numbers.

"The retention and graduation rates have declined over time, which is very troubling," said system Chancellor William E. Kirwan. Last year he ordered each of the system's 13 campuses to devise a plan to narrow the achievement gap. "It will be very disappointing if we don't start to see the numbers increase."

The most significant part of the study is that most of the students who dropped out did not do so as a response to suffering grades -- rather, most of them were shown to be "in good academic standing." The problem seems to be that, as it takes longer and longer for students to graduate (most schools reportedly expect students to last through five or even six years of undergraduate education these days), tuition bills mount and most students just can't reach the end of the tunnel. More than anything, this study indicates a need for college to rethink how best to provide for its students, garnering enough revenue to run itself while, at the same time, not having to sacrifice the attendance of students whose lives could be changed so much by a college degree.

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