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Why Minority-Serving Institutions Are Key to Boosting College Graduation Rates

A new report says MSIs are the experts at college completion.

Can America meet the ambitious goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020? A new report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy and the Lumina Foundation Models of Success project says we’ll only get there if we tap the expertise of minority-serving institutions, schools that have a history of educating large numbers of "low-income, first generation, and under-represented students" of color.

MSI's are historically black colleges and universities; tribal colleges and universities; Hispanic-serving institutions; and Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander-serving institutions. Since 2009, the Models of Success project has studied MSIs to see what they're doing to help improve college graduation rates. HBCUs for example, are only three percent of all colleges and universities, but they enroll 16 percent of black students. Similarly, TCUs are less than one percent of post-secondary institutions, but they educate 19 percent of American Indian students, and HSIs are only four percent of schools but they enroll 42 percent of all Hispanic undergrads.

According to the report, nearly "half of all MSI students are the first in their families to attend college, compared with only 35 percent of students at predominantly White institutions," and significant numbers come from low-income backgrounds. This student population tends to be less prepared for college and therefore more likely to drop out, but because MSIs are familiar with the cultural needs of the students they serve and provide a socially and academically supportive environment that nurtures leadership abilities, they’re churning out graduates—particularly in areas crucial to our economy, like STEM.

HBCUs, for example, award nearly half of the mathematics degrees held by black professionals and have educated 40 percent of black physics Ph.Ds. And, at a time when we need a more diverse teaching force, MSIs are graduating nearly half of all minorities with teaching degrees. With that kind of track record, the report says that non-MSI schools have to become more "innovative and open" to the "alternative and diverse" approaches that MSIs are using and see MSI schools as the real experts in college completion.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user stevendepolo.

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