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Excerpt from Daniel de Vise's article:
"...A 2008 study by Education Sector, another Washington-based think tank, found a black-white graduation gap of 19 points at the University of Michigan, 22 points at the University of Wisconsin and 24 points at the University of Colorado. The 2010 Education Trust report found gaps of 15 points or more separating Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites at flagship public universities in Illinois, Massachusetts and Nebraska, as well as Purdue.
Even schools at the top of the pecking order, including Harvard and Dartmouth, have modest but measurable gaps in minority completion, the Education Trust found, although minorities graduate at high rates.
Towson serves about 17,500 undergraduates, of whom 12 percent are black and 3 percent Hispanic.
Fifteen years ago, as a way to boost graduation rates, school leaders decided to emphasize high school grades as the dominant factor in admitting students. Internal research had convinced them that students who entered Towson with high GPAs tended to graduate, regardless of SAT scores, and that students with high test scores but low grades were more likely to drop out.
The strategy relied partly on the strength of Maryland's public schools. Towson draws hundreds of minority students from suburban school systems in Baltimore, Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Howard counties, all known for rigor and strong minority achievement.
"We're getting high SATs and high GPAs from schools where high SATs and high GPAs mean something," Caret said.
Towson once ignored the struggling schools of Baltimore City. But in 2005, Caret guaranteed admission and a partial scholarship to all students from Baltimore city or county who finished in the top 10 percent of their high school class. In one year, the number of black freshmen from Baltimore rose from 34 to 98.
With growing ranks of minority and first-generation college students, Towson administrators set about building a network of initiatives to shepherd them through the difficult transition to college.
The heart of the effort is a program called SAGE, or Students Achieve Goals through Education. Each year, nearly 200 entering freshmen from disadvantaged backgrounds are paired with mentors. They connect over the summer. The mentorship lasts through the crucial first year.
Mentors are trained to practice what director Raft Woodus calls "intrusive caring": gently but firmly prying into every aspect of the freshman's life, probing for problems.
"You have to eat every day. You have to study," said Herbert, a mentor. "I make sure they do it. I do it with them."
Minorities and first-in-their-family college students are steered into another program, Support for Student Success. Initiated by Caret, it offers an 11-week overview of every resource available to Towson students, along with exercises in team-building and study skills. Classes are taught by trained counselors.
Mentorships and "College 101" courses are becoming common as universities work to raise minority graduation rates. But they are of varying quality.
"Some of them have good programs, some of them don't. They'll all say they do," said Kevin Carey, policy director at Education Sector."