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Student Retention Rates Challenging Ohio's HBCUs

For the more than 100 historically black colleges and universities nationwide, boosting graduation rates can be an uphill climb. The schools commonly referred to as "HBCUs" enroll many low-income, minority students who may not be academically prepared for college.

At a discussion at The City Club of Cleveland Tuesday, a handful of HBCU leaders talked about both challenges and opportunities facing HBCUs, including the link between graduation rates and the schools’ bottom line.

Ohio’s higher education institutions used to earn their chunks of state funding based on enrollment rates, but today, it’s based on the amount number of students completing courses and graduating.

That shift has made all of the state’s schools take a hard look at the types of students they attract and retain. 

But it’s slightly different at HBCUs like Central State University.

With slightly more than 2,000 students, the university’s four-year graduation rate clocks in at roughly 10 percent, while 25 percent of students graduate in six years.

Since the campus aims to offer an education to students with diverse needs and backgrounds, those figures can be affected by life outside the classroom, says Central State’s president Cynthia Jackson-Hammond.

“Students come in, they have to step out to work, they have to support not only their families, but a lot of times, people who are depending on them, so then they come back," Jackson-Hammond said. "How does that affect us, it affects college completion rates.” 

And those completion rates affect the University’s bottom line. Recently, Central State was placed on fiscal watch by the Ohio Board of Regents.

They have three years to work with the board to get its budget back on track.

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