Editorial: USF leads in closing achievement gap

Published March 3, 2017

The University of South Florida can count itself a national leader in a critically important area: closing the stubborn achievement gap between white and black students. Nationally, average graduation rates of African-American students lag more than 20 points behind white students. At USF, the difference is 2.1 percent, a remarkable achievement.

USF has added a number of feathers to its cap lately, including achieving emerging pre-eminent status last year that affirms its place as a rising research university. But awarding doctorates and securing prestigious research grants is just one piece of USF's mission. Of equal importance is serving its diverse student population, many of whom come from the Tampa Bay area.

Colleges and universities nationwide struggle to ensure that African-American students keep up with their white peers. USF, which ranked sixth nationally in black student success in a new report from the Education Trust, shows what is possible with determination. The report measured the six-year graduation rate among black students at 700 schools from 2012 to 2014. USF's rate was 63.7 percent, and since then it has improved to 69 percent. Getting there was no accident. By keeping close tabs on first-year students and linking them with support services when signs emerged they were struggling, USF saw black students' graduation rate improve by 20 points in a decade.

The university says it is led by the idea that "every student will succeed, and that student success is everyone's responsibility." These figures show it's living by that mantra.