The Minnesota Daily reported in October that the University of Minnesota graduation rates for African American students are relatively low compared to other populations of the student body. From 2013 to 2016, only 58.1 percent of African American students had graduated within six years. These statistics were pulled from the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center, which gave the university an "F" grade in how equitable our campus is for minorities.
The University has initiatives and groups in place that support African American students and encourage them to further their academic commitment. The Black Student Union, Huntley House and the African American Studies department are a few ways that the school celebrates African American culture within their student body. But at times, sometimes providing these opportunities are not enough to ensure that Black students are graduating and succeeding at the same rate of their peers.
Fortunately, scholarships and other means of financial aid are available to students of color to help ease financial barriers they may face. However, those are often limited to students with impressive academic records and those who are closely involved in their community and extracurricular activities.
While it's important to reward and recognize students for their high achievements, universities may often end up excluding an already marginalized group. Great students often get overlooked because, on paper, they may seem like they cannot perform academically. By not extending more scholarships and financial help to minority communities, we are forgetting many students who are academically capable but lack the resources to make college feasible.
Specifically speaking to the African American community, mental health also plays a huge role in a student’s academic success. African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience mental health problems compared to the general population, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness. Unfortunately, mental health within the African American community hasn't always been widely understood and acknowledged.
Issues with mental health are often blamed on being weak or not even recognized as issues at all. Even though most students are away from their families during college, they are not immune from believing these sentiments. And if students are not getting help dealing with these issues, their focus on school and work are inevitably going to be affected.
It is important that academic institutions are culturally competent when it comes to understanding African American students and their mental health. Not only does this affect students’ social experiences, but it affects a student’s ability to focus on their degree and receive a well-rounded education.
To alleviate some of this academic stress, the University of Minnesota should explore more ways to holistically look at incoming students’ academic records and financial circumstances. How to actively try to increase the University’s standard of equity should be a top priority for decision makers within the institution. The University of Minnesota has made an effort at diversifying our student body, but ensuring academic success should be more important than just increasing enrollment numbers.