ROCK HILL, S.C. -- Graduation is still at least a year-and-a-half away for Jillian Keitte, but the education major is confident she will get there.
This school year is only Keitte's second at Winthrop University, but she's already earned enough credits to get her halfway through her junior year.
"You can be comfortable here, that's the main thing I love about Winthrop," she said. "You don't have to try to act like anybody else.
"Here at Winthrop they set up the programs for us to be successful," she said.
However, being successful in college isn't always easy. For every 10 African American incoming freshman nationwide, just four graduate within six years. The graduation rate lags behind white students by 30 percent, the lowest of any ethnic group. But Winthrop has bucked this national trend.
"We graduate our minority populations right up there with our white populations and not because someone said, 'give them a break,' (but) because somebody said, 'give them the tools,'" said Winthrop Dean Dr. Gloria Godfrey Jones.
Education Trust evaluated universities across the country and ranked the top 20 schools for best outcomes for black students. Winthrop is second on that list. Not only have they closed the achievement gap between black and white students, black students have a slightly higher graduation rate than white students.
"We intervene intentionally, we intervene on purpose," Dean Jones declared.
According to Education Trust, African American students disproportionately arrive at colleges from low-performing high schools, struggle with financing college, and face racial tensions on campuses. These factors are considered factors as to why African-American students are less likely to graduate.
Dr. Jones says they are aware of the challenges that students face and are meeting them head on.
"Many of our students go to high schools that are less well-funded, less well-resourced," she explained. "Any student at mid-point in the semester has a D, F or U, is contacted by the academic success center."
Jones said students are provided with hours of weekly tutoring and given faculty or peer mentors. She also says the university tries to ensure struggling students don't risk losing scholarships, even if that means advising them to drop a difficult course.
"We have to navigate in such a way that they can keep that scholarship and they can use that scholarship to return to Winthrop," she explained.
Winthrop has turned out to be a perfect fit for Keitte. She says her sister, a student at USC in Columbia doesn't always find the campus the most inviting.
"She says it's not easy being a black female in that environment, she comes up to Winthrop a lot to hang out with us because she loves how diverse it is and how open it is," said Keitte.
Georgia State University topped the list for best performing schools for black students. Wayne State University in Michigan is listed as the worst. Top performing schools in our area include Francis Marion University and USC-Aiken in South Carolina and UNC-Greensboro and Eastern Carolina in North Carolina.
To read the Education Trust's full report, click this link.