Lynn Smith's article on "Alienation and Failure in Academia" (Part I, Jan. 6) is correct in stating that UC Berkeley is giving very high priority to efforts aimed at helping underrepresented minority students stay in school and graduate. Berkeley has had marked success in recruiting and enrolling these students, and their rates of academic progress here have been improving.
To achieve high rates of success for students all the way through graduation, it is essential for the campus to have valid data on what causes students to drop out. Our latest information is showing that for black students the main problems are lack of academic preparation and skills development and financial difficulties. These are problems we are addressing strongly in our retention improvement efforts.
I wish to correct one statistic, cited in The Times article, which may cause undue pessimism among prospective applicants. It is not correct that at Berkeley "73% of black and Hispanic students drop out." Among undergraduates who entered Berkeley as freshmen, some 40% of the black students have graduated or are still in school after five years (and the rates are somewhat higher for Hispanics). Further, it is significant to note that for black students who are regularly admitted (i.e., meet all requirements) and not from economically disadvantaged families, the retention rate is 60%--compared to 69% for all the students.
Some students switch schools, or return after dropping out, so the ultimate degree-earning success of all groups is higher than the five-year retention rates would indicate.