The six-year graduation rate at USF has increased from 47% in 2007 (2001 cohort) to 57% in 2012 (2006 cohort), a significant jump in college completion rates. Over the same span, first-year retention rates have jumped from 81 percent to 89 percent.
Given that the USF Strategic Plan for 2013-2018 calls for further increases in the six-year graduation rate and first-year retention rate to 65 percent and 91 percent, respectively, the Office of Student Success and the Office of Decision Support have drilled down into the data to identify remaining achievement gaps and develop appropriate policies and practices to raise graduation and retention rates for all undergraduate students.
In a significant finding, graduation and retention rates by race and ethnicity show relative parity. In fact, at 61 percent the six-year graduation rate for Black and Asian students is higher than the rate for white students and Hispanic students (55 percent), for which USF has received national praise from the widely respected Education Trust for closing the graduation-rate gap between whites and under-represented minorities. (See: http://www.edtrust.org/dc/publication/college-results-online-brief-top-gap-closers)
However, the more significant issue - at USF and nationally - is the graduation rate gap between males and females. A recent study conducted by Valeria Garcia, director of USF's Office of Decision Support, found that while overall graduation and retention rates for males and females have gradually have increased in the last four years, college completion rates for male students lag significantly behind female students in all racial and ethnic groups. The USF six-year graduation rate for white male students is 49% (2006 cohort), 12 points lower than white female students (61 percent). Black male students, meanwhile, trail black female students by an even greater margin, 50 percent to 67 percent.
Asian females recorded the highest six-year graduation rate at 72 percent, followed by Black females (67 percent), White females, and Hispanic females (60 percent). For the full reports on graduation and retention rates go to the Student Success website and view research.
The gender differences for USF first-year retention rates were minimal at 0-4 percent during the last five years. The strongest retention rates in the 2010 cohort were Asian females at 96 percent and Black females at 92 percent.
In Higher Education: Gaps in Access and Persistence Study, August 2012 the U.S. Department of Education identified some significant differences that may help explain the gender gaps. More males than females listed financial factors as a reason for leaving college, and more female students chose schools according to issues of affordability and access to financial aid. In addition, female students were more likely than males to get engaged in campus life or meet with an academic advisor during their first year in college, both activities known to improve student success.
Two other recent studies sponsored by the Institute for Higher Education Policy and the Pathways to College Network identified promising policies and practices that have been implemented at colleges and universities to promote higher success rates for Black and Hispanic men of color.
Unfortunately, gender gaps are all too common at institutions of higher education across the country. Although the student success initiative at USF has focused on lifting graduation and retention rates for all students, the time may soon come when the institution has to focus more directly on the significant barriers that are slowing down progress to degree for many male students.