Catholic higher education grad rates exceed national averages

Photo of a student mentored by a professor at Detroit MercyThe graduation rate of Catholic colleges and universities is significantly higher than that of public schools, according to College Scorecard, a database of the U.S. Department of Education. The national average graduation rate was 42 percent in 2015, while the average was 59 percent at Catholic colleges and universities.

University of Detroit Mercy’s current five-year graduation rate is 63 percent.

A variety of factors can affect an institution’s graduation rate — and it’s just one measurement Catholic institutions use to measure higher education success — but it is an indication of the commitment schools like Detroit Mercy have to their students.

“Catholic institutions hang their hat on caring about individual students. I know we do here,” said John Staudenmaier, S.J., assistant to the president for Mission & Identity.

“I think being an undergraduate anywhere is a harrowing experience, so when you have a faculty that has a tradition of being available, then more kids are going to make their way through the hard things that go on in any undergraduate experience.”

Detroit Mercy features a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio, which provides students with plenty of individualized attention, and the faculty and staff are known to have open-door policies.

“At Jesuit schools, we have this value called ‘cura personalis,’ which means ‘care for the whole person,’” said Tim Hipskind, S.J., director of Service Learning for the Institute for Leadership & Service. “I’ve heard students at Detroit Mercy say that’s a fact, that’s not just something we say because it sounds good. The faculty here really care about the students and are very proactive in making sure students succeed.”

The commitment of faculty and staff to student success also translates to the students themselves and creates an environment where students collaborate and want to see each other succeed.

“Students feel one of the things that’s unique about Detroit Mercy is students really care about each other,” Hipskind said. “There’s not this super competitive thing, like, ‘If so and so does well on the test then I’m not going to look as good.’ There’s not much of that here. The atmosphere is much more, ‘Let’s help each other get through.’ I asked an open-ended question when I was doing the baccalaureate mass, ‘What makes Detroit Mercy unique?’ That’s one of the main things they talked about.”

Students also enjoy learning lessons that go far beyond the classroom — lessons that translate into the work place and into life.

“Education at Catholic schools isn’t just about teaching from a book and being able to learn class material, it focuses on forming well-rounded and balanced people,” Detroit Mercy senior and business major Steve Willman said. “Catholic schools, like Detroit Mercy, place a large emphasis on getting involved in the community through various organizations and events on campus. Giving back to the community is an important part of a Catholic education.”

Catholic colleges and universities are also posting higher graduation rates for students across all races, with the exception of Asian students, based on data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The graduation rate of black students was 43 percent at Catholic colleges and universities, 35 percent at public colleges and universities and 28 percent across all sectors. For Hispanic students, the rate was 52 percent at Catholic schools, 44 percent at public schools and 36 percent across all sectors.

“Students are more likely to graduate if they feel connected to their institution and cared for and supported by their professors,” said English Department Chair Mary-Catherine Harrison. “Belonging matters for all students, but it is particularly important for first-generation and low-income students and students from underrepresented minority groups. Catholic universities, like University of Detroit Mercy, are able to foster student belonging because of our commitment to care for the whole person. Our mission is to help students grow in all aspects of their life and identity. This fosters a fundamentally different relationship with our students.”

Catholic higher education has a long tradition of serving low-income students and reaching into communities of underserved populations.

Research from the Equality of Opportunity Project shows that the percentage of students who have parents in the bottom 20 percent of income distribution in the United States and who reach the top 20 percent of income distribution by their mid-30s is higher for those attending a Catholic college or university —30.9 percent to 23.2 percent.

“I’m really proud to see underrepresented populations are doing well because that’s really key to Jesuit and Mercy values, and Catholic values as well,” Hipskind said. “We want to be sure everyone succeeds; we don’t want to just focus on a certain population, especially if they haven’t done well in other areas.”

To learn more about Detroit Mercy’s mission and values, please click here. — By Dave Pemberton.