Roanoke Times
                 Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: SUNDAY, March 19, 1995                   TAG: 9503200064
SECTION: VIRGINIA                    PAGE: B-1   EDITION: METRO 
DATELINE: CHARLOTTESVILLE                                LENGTH: Long


The University of Virginia graduates 82 percent of its entering black students within six years, one of the best rates in the country, according to a recent National Collegiate Athletic Association report.

That's better than some Ivy League universities, such as Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania, which graduated 76 percent and 78 percent of their black students, respectively.

UVa's graduation rate for all students was 92 percent from 1987 to 1993, the period covered by the NCAA report for Division I schools.

``The University of Virginia does try very hard to retain its [black] students,'' said Reginald Wilson, senior scholar at the American Council on Education. ``It has some specific programs that make the retention rate higher. Programs can make the difference in student success.''

Several colleges in the country have had trouble attracting black students and making sure they graduate. The graduation rates for blacks at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Maryland, for example, are 31 percent and 42 percent, respectively, according to the NCAA report.

For UVa, students and administrators said, the formula for success combines tough standards for admission with generous financial and moral support once blacks enroll.

``We select very good students here, highly motivated students,'' said Michael Mallory, assistant dean of admissions. ``They graduate because they have that edge. About 99 percent of our students have A-B averages'' in high school, he said. About 12 percent of undergraduates are black, he said.

Some black students said they were attracted by UVa's price tag. For in-state undergraduates, tuition, room and board cost $8,272 a year.

``Virginia is a great deal,'' said junior history major Karen Lindsey. ``It's a wonderful school offering a wonderful education for a wonderful price.''

Others credited the university's aid program.

``The financial aid office, for me, has been really good,'' said senior English major Dorsia Smith, who lives in Tempe, Ariz. She gets $8,200 a year in university grants. ``They do a good job of trying to get us through the four years here.''

Wayne Sparks, financial aid director, said, ``Many of our black students come from economically disadvantaged families. Many have 100 percent of their need met.'' The university estimated it meets 80 percent of the need of financial aid recipients, but it has no breakdown by race.

UVa also offers renewable University Achievement scholarships, covering full tuition and fees, to 50 freshmen a year. Six black out-of-state students a year get $10,000 Jerome Holland Scholarships.

The university offers help in other ways, students said. Lindsey said the peer advising program for blacks, which pairs freshmen with more than 60 upperclass mentors, helped persuade her to enroll.

Both Lindsey and her mother were impressed by a senior adviser they met when they visited UVa the spring before Karen's freshman year.

``I want you to come here, and I want you to be like [the mentor],'' Lindsey said her mother told her. Lindsey herself is a mentor now.

``The program is one to assist students with their transition to UVa,'' said Sylvia Terry, director of the peer advising program.

``The first year of enrollment is extremely important. If a student feels there is at least one person on that college campus who cares,'' then he or she will feel comfortable, she said.

The peer advisers start work even before the freshmen move in. Once the students arrive on campus, the relationships strengthen. The advisers provide academic help and organize sessions on time management and note-taking, and panels on social issues. ``We reach out to them during the summer,'' said Smith, who writes to the students she'll be advising, before they come to school. "If you can prepare them ahead of time, you can make them less anxious.'' ``We all hang out together,'' Smith said of her students. ``We count on each other a lot.''

She said she has commiserated with a student who had a hard time with true/false tests:

``She can't take true/false tests, and neither can I. But she got an `A' in statistics. `You're brilliant,' I told her.''

Sammie Young, a senior communications major who is a peer adviser, said it's not just the students who offer help.

``For me, it's always nice to see black administrators here,'' he said. ``They are a good source of support for me. I think that is a positive thing for people to see.''

Since 1990, UVa has hired a few high-level black administrators. Last fall, William Harmon took over as vice president for student affairs, becoming the first black vice president in UVa history. Bonnie Guiton Hill is the dean of UVa's Commerce School, and Angela Davis is the assistant dean of students. ``You add value to what you are doing as you have visible minority people,'' President John T. Casteen III said.

Last year, however, a group calling itself Concerned Black Students protested a lack of black faculty members on campus. About 3.1 percent of UVa's full-time faculty is black, state records show.

``That,'' Lindsey acknowledged, is something the university will have to work on.'' But, she added: ''That is something you'll run into anywhere. Very few blacks decide to get their Ph.D.s and teach.''

Black student organizations include seven fraternities and sororities, the Black Student Alliance, the Black Voices singing group, black pre-professional groups such as the National Society of Black Engineers-U.Va., and Skandaline, a news magazine focusing on black Christian issues.

``Even so, a common complaint that I hear is the social life for black students is not that great,'' Lindsey said. ``There aren't a lot of parties.''

Yet, Young said, ``I think the atmosphere is inviting. I think it's one that emphasizes that you can do whatever you want to do academic-wise and social-wise.''

 by CNB