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Cal State’s Black Students Fall Behind; Poor Data Obscures Crisis


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CalMatters
PUBLISHED JUL 12, 2022 12:00 A.M.
Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

By MIKHAIL ZINSHTEYN, CalMatters

At the close of the first-ever California State University Juneteenth Symposium last month, the system’s top executive laid out an agenda for improving the Black student experience at the nation’s largest public university system.

The first item on Interim Chancellor ​​Jolene Koester’s list? “We need to disaggregate the data,” she said.

Huh?

That might sound dry, but there’s a good reason why it’s top of mind: Cal State’s struggle to graduate its Black students often goes unmentioned in the system’s public reporting about graduation rates.

Combined, the system’s 23 campuses graduate just half of Black students who enter as freshmen over a six-year period — well below the overall six-year average of 63%, according to the latest system data from 2021.

But you wouldn’t know it from looking at how Cal State reports the data.

In its marquee data tool showing the system’s efforts to close achievement gaps among ethnic and racial groups, Black, Latino and Native American students are lumped into a single category of “underrepresented minorities.” 

With Latino students comprising about 91% of all students in the “underrepresented minority” category — in keeping with the size of their population in the system and state — that makes the data almost entirely a reflection of the success of Latino students.

Consequently, the deeper inequities faced by Black students remain hidden.

On average, Cal State graduates 57% of its first-time students who are underrepresented minorities within six years, a gap of 12 percentage points compared to White, Asian and other students who don’t fall into that grouping. But the graduation gap between Black students and students outside the underrepresented-minority category is 20 percentage points — and has been that way for 15 years.

Last year, across the system, Cal State graduated 770 fewer first-time and transfer Black students after six and four years, respectively, than its targets for 2025.

In other words, Cal State’s default method of presenting minority data suggests the system is much closer to closing the achievement gap for Black students than it actually is.

Read Cal State’s Black students are falling behind other groups—and poor graduation data obscures the crisis on CalMatters.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

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