YSU Continues to Struggle with Black Student Graduation Rates

By Morgan Petronelli

With Youngstown State University students entering the homestretch of finals week, many are anticipating a break from the stress. Some students will be returning this spring to continue their educations, while others will grace the stage and accept their diploma on Dec. 17.

But for some students, especially minorities, the dream of graduation is far from their reach. Last year YSU graduated its biggest class of students since the ‘80s, but the university has a nine percent African American student graduation rate according to the 2010 six-year cohort.

Data was collected between similar colleges to YSU that fall under the category of four-year public and private universities in Ohio that have an overall enrollment of 10,000-19,000 students.

Seven universities fall under this category and include: YSU, Case Western Reserve University, Miami University, Cleveland State University, Bowling Green State University, Dayton University and Wright State University.

Of the similar universities examined, YSU has the lowest African-American graduation rate at nine percent and the overall graduation rate at 33 percent.

The university with the highest African-American graduation rate is Miami University with 72 percent. The highest overall graduation rate belongs to Case Western University with 82 percent.

In terms of gap percentages, which is the difference between the overall graduation rate and that of the selected minority group, Cleveland State ranks number one with a 24 percent gap.

An important factor to note is that out of the universities examined, YSU has the second highest African-American enrollment with 12 percent of the fall 2015 full-time undergraduate enrollment for the entire university. YSU was also the least costly school to attend with $8,317 in tuition during the 2016-17 school year.

Martin Abraham, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs at YSU, said he is not sure as to why the African-American graduation rates are so low, but said the university is actively trying to improve these numbers.

Recently, YSU launched the “We See Tomorrow Campaign” to raise $100 million to be used to improve the university in a multitude of ways.

“Some of the funds generated through the campaign will be used to support initiatives to address the low graduation rates. For example, the Navarro Fellows program puts some underrepresented students in employment opportunities working directly with some of our senior leadership,” Abraham said.

Hillary Fuhrman, director of assessment at YSU, said that diversity is a problem they encountered when they surveyed students in 2016.

“First-year students responded at lower levels than our peer institutions on a scale called ‘Discussions with Diverse Others’ and seniors score lower than our peers on several questions in the scale ‘Reflective and Integrative Learning.’ That scale focuses on including diverse perspectives in course discussions/assignments,” Fuhrman said.

From Greek Life to the Office of Student Diversity, African-American students have expressed their frustrations with administration’s effort to increasing the black graduation rates and encouraging minority student success.

I’yonna Taylor-Smith, a YSU student, has researched the university’s low African-American graduation/retention rates in the past, and expressed her frustration as a member of the black community with the school’s effort to graduate minority students.

Taylor-Smith revealed her disappointment as a member of the black community with the school’s effort to graduate minority students.

“I personally don’t think that Youngstown State is putting in enough effort to keep minority students here. Their bigger focus is on sports recruitment and getting international students on campus,” Taylor-Smith said.

“For instance, when we [American minorities] go to people who can implement rules or get us to where we need to be, we often find ourselves not responded to, or they downplay the issue. This isn’t new and I don’t think that it will get better soon unless someone comes in and genuinely cares enough to make a change,” Taylor-Smith said.

Despite this, administration is still hopeful that these numbers will improve, but not right away.

Abraham said that the university has been working on the matter for the past few years, but the efforts they are making now will not show up in the six-year graduation rate until 2023 for later.

“I know those numbers are beginning to move in the right direction,” Abraham said.