By Myrle Cooper Guest Commentator St. Cloud’s racist environment probably costs St. Cloud State University (SCSU) more Black students than combined academic and financial difficulties. SCSU provided Black student graduation information in response to a Minnesota Government Data Practices Act request (July 2010).
The data received ranged from apparently accurate to complex and confusing to possibly fraudulent or inflated. Amid pages of data was the statement below implying that SCSU may take credit for Black students (only Black students) who transfer and “graduate elsewhere.” ”SCSU’s contributions to successful outcomes for Black students go well beyond those reflected in its six-year graduation rates. For example, if you include those who built a foundation at SCSU, transferred, and then went on to graduate elsewhere, then 40% of Black students in SCSU’s 2000 and 2001 entering classes combined have graduated. Further, an additional 15% of those two combined classes were enrolled at other institutions in Spring 2009.” (source: “Tracking and improving success among SCSU’s Black undergraduate students: Beyond graduation rates,” second edition, pg. 5) When asked about counting as SCSU graduates those Black students who left and ”graduated elsewhere,” Melinda Voss, public relations director for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system, replied, “If you started at St. Cloud State and finish at St. Cloud State, you get counted in this data. But if you started at St. Cloud State but transferred to Mankato, you don’t get counted, even if you completed at Mankato.” (”Achievement gap extends to state’s higher education”, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, 11/3/2010) What exactly is a “foundation” built at SCSU? If city hall, community residents, local politicians and SCSU’s president were as concerned, conniving and detail-oriented about building “foundations” as avoiding, denying or ignoring racism, SCSU’s Black retention would improve significantly.
Suddenly last May, all references to Black student graduation rates disappeared from MnSCU, SCSU, and College Navigator websites. Did guilt about low Black student retention produce claims facts wouldn’t support? Let’s dare to consider possible reasons for inflating numbers of Black students graduating from SCSU, if it were true: (a) Since racism is so blatant in St. Cloud (according to news media reports and findings from investigative studies, all damning), maybe SCSU prefers deceiving high school counselors, parents, prospective Black students and taxpayers rather than admitting and effectively confronting local racism.
(b) With so few Black students graduating from SCSU, obviously retention is “job one.” (c) Exactly why is retention a problem? (d) With no student exit interviews, reasons for Black students transferring away are carefully concealed or simply ignored. Let’s abandon glittering generalities or the niceties of complexity and examine specifics. Based on data provided by SCSU, Black student enrollments were (during years shown in parentheses): 187 (2002) and 620 (2010). If SCSU’s Black student enrollment increased exponentially, why haven’t retention and graduation increased at least proportionally?
With a Black student enrollment of 173 (2000), why did only seven graduate six years later? Why did only 16 Black students graduate among 187 (2002)? Among the 187, why did only 31 Black students survive long enough for 16 to actually graduate six years later in 2008 (creating an accurate but deceiving 52 percent Black graduation rate). SCSU claimed a Black graduation rate of 52 percent for the 2002 cohort. For the same cohort, 51 percent of White students graduated, a suspicious statistic for a university with only seven percent Black enrollment in a community historically known for its “friction with outsiders” and Minnesota’s highest hate crimes. (“Is it safe to send our children to St.
Cloud?” editorial, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, 2/7/2007; “St. Cloud State’s ‘challenges’ forged strong alumni bonds,” Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, 8/6-12/2009; “St. Cloud Muslims fearful and angry after racist incidents,” Minnesota Public Radio, 1/27/2010; “St. Cloud’s history of friction with outsiders,” Minnesota Public Radio, 7/30/2010; “St. Cloud schools visit as part of federal investigation into discrimination claim wraps up,” St. Cloud Times, 10/15/2010) Compared with relatively improved race relations in Duluth, Mankato, Marshall and Rochester, St. Cloud remains Minnesota’s capital of racism. The most respected community-ranking organizations (e.g. Places Rated Almanac, Kiplinger, Forbes and Money Magazine) ridicule St. Cloud’s absurd claims as most “livable” and “secure” on “the planet.” Meanwhile, Eden Prairie (#1), Plymouth (#11), Woodbury (#13), Eagan (#15) and Apple Valley (#20) were cited for best overall qualities of life. (“100 Best places to live in America,” CNN Money.com, 7/12/2010) Mankato was ranked “15th best small city to raise a family in America,” Forbes Magazine, 2010, and “25th best city for business careers and young people,” ING, 2010. Rochester was listed among the “10 Best cities for the next decade,” Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine, 2011.
Myrle Cooper is retired from SCSU but continues to closely monitor racism and expose a community resisting change. He welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.