A new report says the gap in college graduation rates between white and black students is still large — about 22 percentage points across the country.
The analysis was published Wednesday by The Education Trust, an advocacy organization for academic achievement.
The issue isn't new to most Minnesota schools.
On average, at the eight Minnesota colleges and universities included in the report, white students graduate at a rate 16 percentage points higher than black students.
"I just think it does point out that our institutions are not as culturally flexible as they need to be," said Larry Pogemiller, the state commissioner of higher education.
"That's just something we're aware of in Minnesota that we just have not been able to resolve yet."
The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities has the second worst graduation gap in the Big Ten at 24 percentage points.
University leaders say they have been working to make sure first-year students are supported academically and feel welcome.
The U still has a long way to go, according to Robert McMaster, dean of undergraduate education.
"The goal is a zero gap, which is obviously the ideal situation," said McMaster.
But he says the school has made progress. The report looks at graduation rates for students who would've enrolled years ago — graduating between 2012 and 2014. McMaster said the U's graduation gap now sits at 17 percentage points based on six-year graduation rate data.
And over the past decade, he said the gap has closed by 10 percentage points, progress that is not reflected in the report.
Other school leaders also said the report looks worse than the current situation.
The report showed that Augsburg College has a 20 percentage point graduation gap.
"We do believe that we will graduate a higher proportion of the student who enters this last fall or next fall, than we would have for a student who entered six years ago. We don't get to see the impact of the work immediately," said Katie Bishop chief officer of student success.
Bishop said Augsburg plans to hire more staff and faculty of color. And the school is working to give low-income students of all races access to internships and text books — common barriers to student success.
The authors of the report cautioned schools from relying on easy excuses to explain away their graduation gaps.
The often-used excuse is that black students come from public school districts with fewer resources, and aren't always fully prepared for college. That isn't necessarily true said Andrew Nichols, director for higher education research and data analytics at the Education Trust.
"What we know is that can't be the sole determining factor," said Nichols. "Once an institution enrolls that student, they have the obligation to provide that student with the support services they need."
One school stood out in the report: St. Thomas University has almost no graduation gap between black and white students. The school has a small percentage of African American students, just 2.5 percent, which they're trying to increase.
St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan said that since 1998, the school has had a five week pre-college program aimed at incoming students of color.
The students live on campus, take one academic course. Their families participate, if possible, and they're paired with upperclassmen.
"And the overriding goal is to ensure the students understand study habits, time commitments, the commitment to college. And that we've prepared them as much as possible," Sullivan said.
St. Cloud State University is seeing an increase in students of color enrolling, and working on ways to make sure they stay on and graduate.
The school's interim President Ashish Vaidya said academics, financial aid, advising and mental health resources are all part of that equation but all those things need to work together.
"When they face some obstacles, whether it's academic, or social, or other kinds of things, the first question that comes into their minds is — do I even belong here? Will it get better? If the answer to those questions is no, then they're likely to stop out," said Vaidya.
Correction (March 2, 2017): An earlier version of this story did not accurately reflect the metric used in the graduation gap. The gap is measured in percentage points. The story has been updated.