Publication Date

May 2006


This paper examines the graduation rate disparity between members of underrepresented minority groups (African Americans and Hispanics) and their white and Asian peers at a large Ivy League university. To accomplish this, we use data from a variety of sources, including confidential institutional data on admissions and financial aid as well as publicly available data from the National Center for Educational Statistics and the College Board. We examine the extent to which high school and neighborhood characteristics may be responsible for the disparity. Specifically, we are interested in how the presence of members of a person’s own racial group in high school affects his or her college-level performance, especially for blacks and Hispanics. We find that these own-race effects do not play a significant role in determining graduation probability. We also find that neighborhood characteristics such as the poverty rate and school characteristics such as per-pupil expenditure are not significant. However, it is shown that the institution’s opportunity program plays an important role in fostering the academic success of black students, and a modest role in ensuring that they graduate. We also show that students who are financial aid recipients tend to have a slightly lower graduation rate than non-aid recipients, which shows that graduation success is somewhat linked to a family’s financial situation. While our best model is able to explain virtually the entire Hispanic-white gap, we are only able to explain 43 percent of the black-white gap, suggesting that other non-quantifiable factors are at work.


Suggested Citation
McGraw, M. J. (2006). Understanding the racial disparity in graduation rates at a large Ivy League university (CHERI Working Paper #90). Retrieved [insert date], from Cornell University, ILR School site:

Required Publisher Statement
Published by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, Cornell University.