Winthrop University stands out in a national study of four-year colleges and universities for its ability to close the achievement gap between black and white students.
The "Big Gaps, Small Gaps" study focuses not on institutions with the highest graduation rates, but on those institutions which graduate whites and minorities at similar rates, showing they serve students equally.
The study by the Education Trust found that among the institutions sampled - which excludes historically black institutions and private schools - 57 percent of college students earn diplomas in 6 years with whites graduating at 60 percent rate, Latinos at 49 percent and African Americans at 40 percent.
In four and five year periods, the graduation rate for minority and white students at Winthrop is about 55 percent. In six years, blacks graduate at 61.6 percent rate and other minorities graduate at 60.6 percent. White student graduate at a 58.1 percent rate, the study reported.
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While Winthrop's six-year graduation rate for all students lags behind other state public schools - Clemson, the University of South Carolina in Columbia, The Citadel, and the College of Charleston - but these schools have greater gaps between white and minority graduation rates than Winthrop, according to the report.
"There's probably some work (Winthrop) can do to improve their overall graduation rate," said Jennifer Engle, author of the study. But Winthrop has closed the achievement gap where other schools haven't, said Engle, assistant director for higher education at Education Trust.
"Our sense is that institutions that are serving their white students at a particular rate are signaling that they can serve those students well," said Engle. "If they can serve their white students at that level, they should be able to serve their minority students at that level, too."
For the study, Engle said "a school like Harvard is of less interest because they're more selective about which minority students they accept. They get equity through the admissions process."
Some schools, such as Winthrop, are working to get to equity with students once they're on campus, she said.
Among the colleges and universities in its peer group, Winthrop stands out because it accepts a higher percentage of minorities. and has shown that it can serve all students equally as well.
"Our attention to student performance across the board, and not just to minorities has led to our retention," said Gloria Jones, dean of University College.
Engle praised Winthrop's University College for its role in student retention.
One of the strategies implemented through University College is mid-semester reporting of students who are struggling, Jones said.
While faculty can report the academic progress of any student, they are required to report on athletes, international students, and students who participate in two academic support programs called TRiO and LEAP.
The TRiO and LEAP programs provide additional academic support for students who recognize early on they need help.
"These efforts, combined with institutional leaders' commitment to diversity and student success, are essential in maintaining high graduation rates for all Winthrop students," Engle wrote.
For students not involved in specific programs, residence life tries to promote academic success.
Before moving in, students are screened and placed within communities of people that share similar interests. Each residence hall has a full-time residential learning coordinator.
Sylvester Owens participated in LEAP when he came to Winthrop in 2003.
"I did well academically" in high school, he said, "but my standardized test scores were not the best."
In the LEAP program, Owens attended classes before the semester began, which prepared him for the demands of college.
Owens completed his undergraduate degree and went on to earn a masters degree in education and school counseling at Winthrop. He now works in the office of development as a fundraiser for the university.