Ranking graduation rates for Alabama colleges and universities - AL.com

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We’re heading into collegee graduation season but, as you can see from some federal data, not every university is awarding diplomas at the same level. The U.S. Department of Education’s scorecard ranks colleges and universities based on graduation rates. The rate is determined by the proportion of entering students that graduated from the school within eight year of entry, regardless of their status of full-time or part-time. Here is federal data on graduation rates ranked from highest to lowest. For this list, only 4-year public and non-profit private schools are included: 1. Tuskegee University (2,529 undergraduates) – 76% 2. Auburn University (24,147) – 74% 3. Samford University (3,524) – 70% 4. University of Alabama (32,177) – 67% 5. Birmingham-Southern College (1,265) – 64% 6. University of Alabama at Birmingham (13,186) – 55% 7. Spring Hill College (1,252) – 51% 8. University of Alabama in Huntsville (7,458) – 51% 9. University of Montevallo (2,251) – 51% 10. Univers

Far from home, Nigerian-born prep star pursues academic and basketball dreams in Michigan - MLive.com

When Peter Nwoke remembers the last hug he shared with his mother, a smile spreads across his face. It was a hug 10 months in the making and it remains one of his favorite memories.

“It was the best feeling ever,” Nwoke said.

The hug happened back in 2018 when Nwoke was just 15 years old. He had just completed the long 14-hour flight home from Detroit Metro Airport to his home Lagos, Nigeria, where his sister, Roselyne, was waiting to pick him up and take him home for a three-week stay. When Nwoke’s mother, Adamma, laid eyes on her son, she rushed to him before he made it to the front door.

“My mom hugged me for five-straight minutes,” Nwoke said. “I wasn’t even in the house yet.”

It was the first time he had returned to his hometown since moving to the United States in 2017 to fulfill an academic scholarship he obtained at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Preparatory, a Catholic boarding school in southeast Michigan.

Up until that point, it was the longest Nwoke had ever been away from home.

“The saying goes, there’s no place like home,” Nwoke said. “No matter where you go in the world, you always come back home.”

Now 18 years old, it has been just over two and a half years since Nwoke last visited his mother and sister at home. It’s been two and a half years since he last hugged them both. Although he misses them, Nwoke stays strong – and well occupied – with a promise he made to his mother.

“Whatever happens, I promised I’m going to get my education,” Nwoke said.

So far, Nwoke has made good on his promise as he plans to graduate from St. Mary’s in the spring as one of the top students in his class, sporting a 4.2 GPA. He wants to study aerospace engineering and be able to improve and design the same aircraft that helped him arrive in the United States in the first place.

Accepted into every college he has applied to so far and earning numerous academic scholarships along the way, Nwoke has been a model student.

“He is one of the smartest students I have ever worked with,” said Ann Bartus, who is the St. Mary’s academic dean and college counselor. “His college essays were beautiful ... He’s very, very focused and he wants to study aerospace -- and he is able to connect his love of engineering to so many other disciplines. It’s really important to him to use his engineering to better the world.”

He also speaks five languages. Although English is his native tongue, Nwoke learned and perfected the African languages of Pidgin, Yoruba and Igbo as well. He then added Spanish to his studies in America.

“I’m still perfecting my Spanish,” Nwoke said.

With his dedicated work ethic and impressive credentials, Bartus said she has been contacted by high-ranking representatives from renowned engineering schools wondering if Nwoke is too good to be true. She makes sure to set the record straight.

“I don’t think it will ever get better than Peter Nwoke,” Bartus said.

However, there is one factor that could have a significant impact on the trajectory of Nwoke’s future: Basketball.

Nwoke’s love for basketball is deep and real.

Over the course of his high school years at St. Mary’s, Nwoke has fostered his love for the sport and has grown to be a true difference maker on the court for the St. Mary’s Eaglets. At 6-foot-8, he certainly has the height to dominate his peers at the forward position.

But Nwoke also arrived at St. Mary’s with no formal coaching or experience playing organized basketball. All he wanted was the opportunity to be great at it. According to St. Mary’s coach, Nwoke has evolved into a talented basketball player and has plenty of potential to tap into.

“When he got here, he really struggled basketball wise just because he had never played organized basketball before,” Covert said. “He comprehends things so well, especially on the defensive end. We got multiple different ways to defend the ball screen and he is at the center of that. Being able to comprehend it in his third language is pretty phenomenal.”

A NEW SPARK

While growing up in Lagos, Nwoke never gave the sport of basketball too much thought. Soccer is the most popular sport back home, and like most of his peers, that’s the only sport he ever cared about playing growing up.

Although Nwoke knew of basketball growing up and there were small pockets of interest in his area, seeing the sport on television never sparked any interest.

“The first time I watched basketball, it was really weird to me,” Nwoke said. “I was like, ‘Why are they passing the ball with their hands? I’d rather play soccer.’”

The more he grew, however, the more people around him told him to give basketball a try. Finally, at the age of 13, a friend encouraged just to give the sport a shot.

What happened next changed the course of Nwoke’s life forever.

He picked up a basketball, made a run toward the rim and dunked it. In that instant, Nwoke was obsessed.

“Ever since then, every time my friends took me to go play basketball, I always wanted to dunk the ball – not do anything else but dunk the ball – until I started learning about shooting, ballhandling and everything else,” Nwoke said. “Continuously learning all of that just made me fall more and more in love with the game of basketball.”

Nwoke would seek out local recreational games and shootarounds whenever he could. However, opportunities to were limited and joining a team was never an option for him in Lagos.

When Nwoke was fortunate enough to find an opportunity to continue his education in the U.S., he knew there was a real opportunity to pursue the sport loved and craved to learn.

“It’s a life-changing opportunity to come here and go to school and play basketball. America is a land full of opportunities and you can barely find that in my country. When the opportunity came for me to come here, I talked to my mom about it. I knew it was going be hard.”

But the opportunities Nwoke and his mother saw outweighed any potential difficulties, even if it meant being apart from each other. Nwoke could not pass it up.

Orchard Lake St. Mary's basketball player Peter Nwoke

Orchard Lake St. Mary's basketball player Peter Nwoke (right) poses with his mother Roselyne (center) and sister Adamma before leaving his home in Lagos, Nigeria to attend Orchard Lake St. Mary's in Michigan in September of 2017.Courtesy of Peter Nwoke

A NEW OPPORTUNITY

St. Mary’s welcomes groups of international students each year. Students come in from China, Poland, Serbia, Nigeria and so on.

When Nwoke arrived at Detroit Metro Airport in September of 2017, St. Mary’s coach Todd Covert happened to be his chauffeur. It would be nice to say it was a memorable car ride, but Covert was part of a caravan that helped transport around 40 international students over the span of a couple days.

“It’s kind of all hands on deck for about two days before school starts,” Covert said.

Covert admits he doesn’t remember the car ride at all. Still, he soon got to know Nwoke and learn just how memorable he really is.

“I’m proud of him,” Covert said. “I’m so proud St. Mary’s can make a difference in this kid’s life and give him a chance to go out into society and make a difference. That’s a big thing to me and a big thing to our school.”

Nwoke first found out about St. Mary’s in early 2017 through his pastor at Mercy Tabernacle church back home in Lagos. Working in the media department at his church at the time, Nwoke said his pastor was familiar with his academic success and he had heard about the outreach program that St. Mary’s offers to international students.

Nwoke discussed the opportunity with his mother and they both agreed to pursue an education at St. Mary’s. Once Nwoke’s pastor reached out and St. Mary’s and connected Nwoke with the school, the process was smooth and swift.

In just a matter of months, Nwoke was saying goodbye to his mother and sister at the airport as he prepared to leave behind the only life he knew.

Although life at home was far from glamorous, it was still home.

“There’s rich people in Nigeria, and then there’s us,” Nwoke said. “Just like the U.S. where there are the rich people, the average people and the poor people. I won’t say that I’m poor, but I don’t come from the rich parts of Nigeria.”

At home, Nwoke played basketball in the same shoes he wore to church. In the States, Nwoke was jumping into a situation where he could where a full basketball uniform and be a part of a real team for the first time. Of course, he got a pair of real basketball shoes to wear.

“When I got here, it was really exciting,” he said.

To the enjoyment of Covert and the St. Mary’s basketball team, Nwoke was a quick learner.

“I never played organized basketball back home,” Nwoke said. “Coming here, I had to learn defense, closing out and all that stuff. I’m the kind of kid that catches up real quick with stuff. You just show me this and I get it real quick. It took me like a month or two just to get used to it and the fast pace of the game. I really gassed out for a month or two playing full-court back and forth. I couldn’t play my freshman year, so I think that helped me to get started on my sophomore year. I just came in and I got used to it.”

Plus, there was the added perk of living in a dormitory on his own. It was a new experience in his growing independence teenagers long for.

Still, he made sure to call his mother to show her his new living quarters the night he arrived in his new home.

After that, the adjustments came.

“There’s been rough patches,” Covert said. “He’s still a kid and he misses his mom and his sister quite a bit. Obviously, technology nowadays allows him to connect fairly easily. But the mere fact of internet, they don’t have internet at their house. There are still some challenges, but when you’re coaching kids -- whether you’re helping them on the court or academically -- you’ve got to factor that in because they don’t really have that sounding board.”

While living over 5,700 miles away from family is a big enough adjustment to handle, there were plenty of little details to adapt to along the way. In particular, Nwoke had to adjust to eating dinner at 5 p.m. instead of at 9 or 10 p.m. like he did at home. Even now, he still gets hungry at night, making it difficult to not get nostalgic when those hunger pangs hit.

“It’s been hard being here away from my family,” Nwoke admitted. “But in the end, I’m pursuing one goal: It is to make it big back here and then go home, help my family, help the people back home where I come from and change the lives of people along the way.”

Orchard Lake St. Mary's basketball player Peter Nwoke

Orchard Lake St. Mary's basketball player Peter Nwoke (right) hugs his mother Roselyne at the end of a visit to his home in Lagos, Nigeria back in 2018. Nwoke flew back to the U.S. that day and has not been back home since.Courtesy of Peter Nwoke

A NEW LIFE

Like many families in Lagos, Nwoke’s was no stranger to struggle. While Nwoke insists his family was not poor, making ends meet was not always easy.

“We lost so much money when my mom was taking care of my dad,” Nwoke said. “My dad, he had diabetes and he had been jobless for 12 years. When he got a job in 2011, something happened.”

One day when Nwoke’s father was walking home from work, he stepped on a nail and badly injured his foot in the process. Nwoke’s family was concerned to start, but they all believed it was not going to be an issue. Nwoke believed his father would heal just fine.

Gradually, however, Nwoke said his father’s leg got “really, really bad” and his health went into decline.

One day not too long after, Nwoke was walking from school when he noticed people approaching him with condolences for a reason he did not want to know or believe.

“I got home and my mom told me that I just lost my dad,” Nwoke said.

Nwoke walked outside in shock and took a seat. He struggled to absorb the fact that he was never going to see his father again.

“My dad was a strong man,” Nwoke said. “He held on for so long.”

As devastating as the loss was for Nwoke and his family, he said the experience only made his family stronger and come closer together. Nwoke’s mother and sister became more precious to him than ever before.

That is when Nwoke began his pursuit to be the best person he could be for his mother and sister.

“As a kid, you always promise your parents that,” Nwoke said. “But I promised her that I was going to work very hard. There were so many opportunities to go sideways and get distracted from my goal in life, but I have so many friends that never went to school.”

Orchard Lake St. Mary's basketball player Peter Nwoke

Orchard Lake St. Mary's basketball player Peter Nwoke (right) poses with his sister Adamma (center) and mother Roselyne back home in Lagos, Nigeria.Courtesy of Peter Nwoke

A NEW PURPOSE

Where Nwoke comes from, not many kids are as interested in school and learning as he is. While his mother would not allow him to slack off on his studies, Nwoke always and an interest in learning and fostering his own education.

While his pursuits have led him to America, he does not intend to remain here forever. Eventually, he wants to go back home. While some of his motivation to return home stems from missing his family, he also sees the needs of the people in his homeland and wants to make a positive impact.

He wants to be a beacon of hope.

“People aren’t really being helped by the government so it’s up to people who can afford to take care of others who are in need, like me,” Nwoke said. “When I get to the level that I plan to attain here in the U.S., I plan to go back home and give back to the people. Change lives, you know? There are a lot of people playing basketball back home that are looking for a way to come over here and display their talent and everything. But because of the country and where it’s at, there is no chance for people to come over here.

“This is a basketball country … I want to be able to give that opportunity to people back home.”

Nwoke’s permanent return to home will be partly shaped by his future basketball and academic career.

Getting recruited by Princeton, Auburn, Northwestern and Miami of Ohio for both basketball and academics, Nwoke was hoping to get a scholarship offer. But when the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, the recruiting landscape changed for many athletes, including Nwoke.

“That just messed up the whole recruitment process,” Nwoke said. “I don’t have anyone recruiting me right now, but I’m not worried about it. I’m still here, I’m planning. I’m not trippin’ over it ... I’m not focused on my recruiting; I’m focused on winning a state championship because that was taken from us last year. That’s really my focus right now.”

With college basketball transfers on an upswing, college eligibility statuses getting extended and college recruit visits almost non-existent during the pandemic, the entire recruiting process for college coaches has been in flux for months.

Brian Snow is a basketball recruiting analyst for 247Sports and he believes Nwoke’s difficulties on the recruiting trail this past year mirrors many other class of 2021 high school players trying to earn scholarships.

“(College) coaches have no idea who is coming back and who isn’t right now,” Snow said. “Then, you’ve got a pandemic where a lot of kids haven’t been playing in front of coaches and some it’s only online streams where you can barely tell who’s who. It’s like the perfect storm of really bad things for kids who are unsigned right now.”

No matter what happens, however, Nwoke said he will always let his educational opportunities guide his decision making. As much as he loves basketball and dreams about stardom, it is not his end game.

“Anything can happen playing basketball,” Nwoke said. “You can get injured or something can happen. You have to have something to fall back to. Just make sure that you’re doing well in school. (My mom) never checks my grades because she knows I’m doing well.”

Still, a boy can dream.

“My dream is to get to the NBA,” Nwoke said. “Everyone has different paths to the NBA. I don’t know what life has planned for me, but if it’s going overseas or going to the NBA or something, basketball is always going to be a part of me. But like I said, I’m going to get my degree first and show my mom, yes, I went to school … I told her I’m going to keep my promise.”

Covert insists that Nwoke is a college-caliber basketball player. In fact, Covert believes Nwoke is more than capable of playing at the Ivy League level.

“With recruiting, if it’s there, great. If it fits him academically like an Ivy or one of those schools that has a focus on aerospace engineering, then I think he’ll play. But I think he’s also very content about going to school and starting a career … He can play at that level without a doubt.”

But even Covert knows Nwoke’s journey is about much more than basketball. Along with great talent, Covert said Nwoke has provided his team with “stability and maturity.” He believes those qualities will endure into the years beyond.

“He really came here from a tough situation,” Covert said. “The world in Nigeria is just war-torn, terrorism, poverty and he really wanted to take advantage of the opportunity that he was given. Academically, he’s going be number one or number two in his class. That’s, honestly what I’m the most proud of is academic success more than anything.”

Nwoke has made the most of a rough journey so far. While his main focus will always be on the well-being of his mother and sister, he hopes to show other children from Nigeria that dreams can be fulfilled if you never stop pursuing them.

“I’ve been through hard times as well, just like they are going through hard times right now,” Nwoke said. “What I would tell them is, I told my friends the same thing as well ... Just keep working hard, keep praying. God is going to direct you and direct your footsteps. If it’s not basketball, then something is going to work out for you eventually. Just keep working hard. That’s all you can do.

“Just keep working hard and wait for the opportunity to come. When the opportunity comes, you take it.”



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