(CBS) President Obama delivered the commencement address today at Virginia’s Hampton University – his first as president to a predominantly African-American school. Fifty-five percent of African-American high school seniors go on to college these days, compared to 45 percent in 1970.
But graduation day is another story, as CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell reports.
At Hampton University, the end of the semester means moving out and for seniors like Jared Council and Melanie French, moving on. Both graduating after four years. But that is increasingly uncommon.
“I stayed focused and I surrounded myself with people who are also focused,” French said.
Since 2004, American universities have used a six-year standard to measure graduation rates; but even with the extended time, African-Americans still lag in obtaining degrees. Only 43 percent of African-Americans who enter college graduate – 20 percent lower than the rate for whites. And for black men its more alarming, with only 36 percent who enter finishing college.
Jared Council almost didn’t.
“I bought textbooks and didn’t open them,” he said. “I skipped classes often.”
Council ended his first semester on academic probation. He credits Hampton’s small classes, its emphasis on strong faculty-student relationships and even its mandatory curfew for freshman for helping him refocus.
He posted a 1.9 GPA his first semester. He’s graduating with a 3.8.
Hampton currently graduates 55 percent of its students within six-years. That’s better than most universities, but significantly lower than schools like Harvard (95 percent) and Yale (94 percent.).