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Similar Students, Different Results: Where Black College Students Do Best, and Worst

It seems it really does matter what college you go to, especially if you’re black.

Colleges that say they can’t improve graduation rates for their black students because they enroll too many poor students or too many who are academically unprepared are sometimes just making excuses, a new report says.

For example, Middle Tennessee State University and Eastern Michigan University each enroll between 15,000 and 20,000 students, have the same median SAT scores, and have roughly equal percentages of students who receive Pell grants, which go to low-income students. At Middle Tennessee, 46 percent of black students graduate within six years, virtually the same rate as the school’s white students. But at Eastern Michigan, only 20 percent of black students graduate within six years and there’s a 25-percentage-point gap with white students.

“It’s really about individual institutional choices and what they are willing to do,” said Andrew Nichols, co-author of the new report, A Look at Black Success, and director of higher education research at The Education Trust. “Far too often, leaders tend to excuse poor outcomes because they’re serving a large number of low-income students of color who are less prepared academically.”