By Moni Basu, CNN
Rome, Georgia (CNN) - Mireille Kibibi's march to the graduation stage at Berry College was tough - laden with the burdens of war.
As a little girl, she fled civil war in Burundi and escaped to neighboring Rwanda in 1994, the year of the genocide. In the chaos, she was separated from her mother, whom she has never seen again. Her father died a few years later.
Kibibi made it to the United States with her grandmother in 2005 and resumed school after missing fourth, fifth and eighth grades.
Now she was about to receive a bachelor's degree in accounting.
She felt all those things a college graduate feels: the relief that exams are over. The excitement of starting life in the real world. The joy of making your family proud.
But Kibibi's graduation was also filled with longing.
On this humid Saturday morning, as dark clouds delivered drizzle over North Georgia, Kibibi, 23, sat nervously among 377 classmates.
The rows and rows of folding chairs had been arranged on the south lawn days in advance. She wished her father and especially her grandmother could see her now, resplendent in the knee-length red dress she'd ordered on eBay. Her grandmother, who raised her, had died a while back.
"She's watching you," her friend Fatima Bostan-Ali reassured her.
"She's proud," said another friend, Lima Naseri.
Kibibi cherishes the support. She knows her friends understand. They are from Afghanistan and also have traveled uneasy paths to graduation day.
Atlanta (CNN) - Past, present and future came together on a thunderstorm-filled Sunday, as President Barack Obama received an honorary doctorate and gave the commencement speech at historically black, all-male Morehouse College, where the Rev. Martin Luther King and many other prominent African-Americans spent their formative years.
After opening with several one-liners, and more smiles than we've seen from him in the damage-control-filled recent weeks, Obama delivered a serious message to the class of 2013.
During a speech rife with both personal and historical references, the president invoked a past full of challenges, often resulting from racism, but noted that African-Americans need to break free from that past to succeed in a globally competitive economy.
"I understand that there's a common fraternity creed here at Morehouse: 'Excuses are tools of the incompetent, used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness,'" Obama said.
(CNN) - Every year, college commencement speakers offer up guidance, life lessons and a few zingers to new graduates from schools large and small. Here are some high-profile commencement speakers that grads will hear from this spring.
Editor’s Note: Michael Lomax, Ph.D, is president and CEO of UNCF, the United Negro College Fund, the largest private provider of scholarships and other educational support to minority and low-income students. Previously, Lomax was president of Dillard University in New Orleans and a literature professor at Morehouse and Spelman colleges.
It was on this day in 1854 that Ashmun Institute, the first college established solely for African-American students, was officially chartered.
Twelve years later, Ashmun was renamed as Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University and became the nation’s first degree-granting institution for African-Americans, or what we now know as a historically black college and university.
Where Lincoln led, others followed, and there are now 105 historically black colleges and universities, enrolling more than 370,000 students and awarding 20% of all undergraduate degrees earned by African-Americans.
“A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” the almost universally recognized motto of UNCF, the United Negro College Fund, has come to represent the aspirations of all historically black colleges and universities to ensure that all Americans can earn the college degrees they need and the 21st century economy demands.
UNCF makes those aspirations real for nearly 60,000 students each year by providing financial support for 38 private historically black colleges and universities and awarding 13,000 scholarships to students at 900 colleges and universities.
Like Lincoln University, these historically black colleges and universities began when African-Americans had few other higher education options. Much has changed since then. Today, a college education is not a “good-to-have” but a “must-have,” the basic requirement for almost every fast-growing and good-paying job and career path.
(CNN) - Ben Linnabary still has a few more months to go at Colerain High School near Cincinnati, Ohio. His mom, though, didn't have that long to wait.
Jennifer Linnabary had been fighting an aggressive form of cancer since 2009. A few weeks ago, as her condition worsened, her friends, family and representatives from the school held a one-person graduation ceremony for Ben in the University of Cincinnati Medical Center intensive care unit. There was a red cap and gown for Ben, the traditional graduation music, applause when he received his diploma and a gentle toss of his mortarboard.
Less than 24 hours later, Jennifer Linnabary died, CNN affiliate WLWT reported.
"It was very surreal, just the fact that they could get all of these people together," Ben told WLWT. "It was very hard at the same time, being there with my mom and knowing that, you know, these might be the last hours I would spend with her."
By Donna Krache, CNN
(CNN) - Imagine a college championship bowl game where the teams are Northwestern and Northern Illinois.
The Wildcats and Huskies are not exactly the first teams that come to mind when you think of football powerhouses, but according to the New America Foundation, they are academic giants among the teams in this year’s Bowl Championship Series.
In its sixth annual Academic BCS, the foundation rated Northwestern No. 1 and Northern Illinois No. 2 among the 25 college teams in this season's final BCS standings.
How did they determine the rankings? The Education Policy team at the New America Foundation considers several factors. It calculates the difference between an entire football team’s graduation rate versus that of the other male students at the school; the graduation gap between black and white players on the team versus the same gap among the total male enrollment at the school; and the gap between the graduation rate of black football players versus all black males at the college.
The Education Policy team also factors in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate, which according to the NCAA’s website is “a term-by-term measure of eligibility and retention for Division I student-athletes that was developed as an early indicator of eventual graduation rates.”
According to the Education Policy team’s formula, Northwestern was ranked No. 1 because it has a 90% graduation rate among its football players, with no graduation gap between its white and black players.
by John Martin, CNN
(CNN) - The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) released a report of state high school graduation rates, which for the first time includes apples-to-apples comparisons among most states. Each state used to determine its own graduation rate; now states are moving toward a common method of measurement.
As Schools of Thought reported earlier, graduation rates for some states have dropped not because students are failing more often, but because the math has changed. The USDOE points this out in a press release on its website: "While 26 states reported lower graduation rates and 24 states reported unchanged or increased rates under the new metric, these changes should not be viewed as measures of progress but rather as a more accurate snapshot." The new data is based on a "four year cohort graduation rate," which also accounts for students who drop out or do not earn a regular high school diploma.
In the video, Brooke Baldwin examines the states with the highest and lowest gradation rates. Across the United States, the range of state graduation rates is between Nevada's 62% and Iowa's 88%. The District of Columbia's rate is lower than that of any state, at 59%. Some states, including Kentucky and Idaho, are not using the new method and were not included in the data released by USDOE.
Looking at the data itself another picture emerges – a gap between whites and blacks still exists, but an even wider gap persists between general graduation rates and the graduation rates of children with disabilities and limited English proficiency students. For these subgroups, graduation rates in many states are below 50%, and sometimes even below 30%.
By Carl Azuz, CNN
(CNN) - Mother, early 30s, financially independent, loves shopping online: The description may not match your idea of the typical college student.
But Edudemic.com is working to reshape the stereotype with some new data about today’s seekers of higher education.
For instance, over 6 million of today’s college students - about 30% - will go online for at least one of their courses, according to the report. And they'll stay online to do their shopping; college students spent $16 billion over the internet in 2011.
It’s easy to understand how the recession drove many adults back to college campuses. But the idea that 25% of today’s college students are over age 30 might come as a surprise. So might the estimate that half of them are financially independent, whereas many of us remember calling home for pizza money.
A study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education estimated that only a third of new jobs created between 2008 and 2018 will require a bachelor's or higher degree. Today’s enrollment reflects that. Edudemic.com states that over 50% of today’s students are working toward a certification that takes less time to achieve, such as studying a trade or earning an associate’s degree.
And 27% will be balancing their studies with parenting.
The report notes that a total of 19.7 million people will enroll in college this year. That works out to more than 6% of the U.S. population.
Kaitlin Nootbaar, the valedictorian at Oklahoma's Prague High School, joked during her graduation speech that she'd so often changed her mind about what she wanted to be, she now answers, "How the hell do I know? I've changed my mind so many times." Her quote mirrored a scene in a "Twilight" movie and the audience applauded. Kaitlin is about to start college on a full scholarship.
But when she went to pick up her diploma, the school principal said he wouldn't release it until she wrote an apology letter - administrators were upset by her speech, CNN affiliate KFOR reported.
CNN's Anderson Cooper weighed in, too, on The Ridiculist: "If this is our future, then nobody's getting diplomas because we're all going to hell in a handbasket."
By Carl Azuz, CNN
(CNN) If you’re planning on getting a four-year degree at college, a newly released study suggests you shouldn’t take five or six years to get it.
An additional year or two could cost you in more ways than the extra tuition.
The University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research found that people who earned bachelor’s degrees within four years saw, on average, higher wages than those who earned similar degrees within six years.
The difference between the wages of four-year and six-year graduates: about $6,000.
But it still pays to get an undergraduate degree, even if it takes six years to do it. Those who earned a bachelor’s within six years made about $6,000 more than students who attended college but didn't earn a degree at all.
The study considered several reasons for the differences in salaries, including the head start that four-year graduates had in the workforce. The authors also noted that some employers may see a difference in aptitude between those who graduate on time and those who don’t.
According to U.S. News and World Report, most American college students – around 60 percent – don’t graduate on time. And an extra year of tuition alone sets them back more than $8,000 at the average public university, while private school (take a deep breath) costs an average of $42,000 per year.
While it's true that many Americans place a priority on getting a college degree, millions of future workers may not need it. A study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education estimates that only a third of new jobs created between 2008 and 2018 will require a bachelor's or higher degree.