A new report by The Education Trust, a national watchdog group for parity in education, singles out UNCG among the nation’s universities for its success at closing the gap in graduation rates between black and white students.

A story about the report recently appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“At UNCG, we pride ourselves on providing a supportive and challenging learning environment for all students and it is gratifying that The Education Trust continues to acknowledge our success in this area,” says UNCG Chancellor Linda P. Brady. “Above all, I am pleased to see our emphasis on support and inclusion reflected in the strong graduation rates for our African American students, a trend UNCG has maintained over the last decade.”

UNCG — with a black student population of just over 23 percent — has graduated black students at similar or higher rates than white students at least since 2002, the report says. Graduation rates for black students at UNCG jumped to 60.1 percent in 2011 from 52.3 percent in 2010; the graduation rate for UNCG’s white students was 51.9 percent in 2011.

While the Education Trust report notes small gains nationwide over the last few years, the gap between black and white graduation rates was still 22.2 percentage points in 2011, based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Education.

All statistics reflect six-year graduation rates.

“Whatever is at work here is phenomenal, and we are a national story because of it,” says Steve Roberson, UNCG’s dean of Undergraduate Studies. “UNCG has a welcoming and inclusive spirit. That, to me, is really the only explanation that seems plausible. That atmosphere is self-authored by this university and by the communities themselves. It’s a grassroots explanation.”

Roberson says the recent leap in graduation rates for black students at UNCG seems to be a happy outgrowth of that supportive and welcoming environment for all students. The university’s programs to help students succeed are based on factors other than ethnicity — primarily economic disadvantage —  although those programs serve a large cross-section of minority students by default.

Roberson says UNCG is “color blind” and “ethnicity blind” in serving its students. He points to several programs on campus that serve African American students, although not exclusively:

  • Rites of Passage, a program developed by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, serves a cohort of 30-40 minority males. The goal is to retain them through graduation.

  • UNCG Guarantee, funded by an anonymous $6 million gift to the university, pays the cost of an undergraduate education for well-qualified, economically disadvantaged students, enabling them to graduate debt-free.

  • The federally-funded TRIO program, housed in Undergraduate Studies, provides four years of tutoring support, training in study skills and help in exploring graduate school options. The program, continuously funded since 1970 and held up as a model for other TRIO programs, serves cohorts of about 200 students who are economically disadvantaged, first-generation college students or disabled.

Looking beyond race and ethnicity, Roberson says the major barrier to a college degree today is economic disadvantage. He read recently that students who come from households with an income of $90,000-$95,000 have a one in two chance of completing a degree. That ratio drops to one in 16 for students from households that make less than $30,000.

Roberson also foresees a growing Latino student population at UNCG and other universities across North Carolina as demographics shift.

“Over the next decade,  many more Latinos will pursue college degrees,” he says, “and we, as the most diverse campus in the System, need to claim the high ground of inclusivity for Latinos.”