Increasing diversity at college

I attend a college that has and has always had a large majority of White students and extremely few Black and Hispanic students. Recently, the administration distributed a list of suggestions for increasing diversity. There were some common-sense suggestions that almost everybody agreed with, such as sending recruiters to local high schools that have high minority representation. But there were others that stirred up a lot of controversy, particularly this one:

For one thing, nobody has been willing to say exactly what the administration means by this. If they mean that any minority student who enrolls will automatically graduate regardless of their academic record, then it seems to me to be a terrible idea. Besides the obvious unfairness of it, there’s also the fact that no company would want to hire a Black or Hispanic graduate from a college that has such a policy.

On the other hand, it might just me a sort of informal agreement to help minority students who chose to attend. Of course there’s nothing wrong with this, but if they are using that definition, then shouldn’t they just “commit” to graduating everybody who enrolls?

I couldn’t imagine they mean that they would graduate minority students regardless of grades. That’d be absurd.

But even aiming to retain 100% of students in any situation is misguided at best. College isn’t for everyone, and sometimes it take going to college to figure that out.

However, if your school has a particular problem retaining minority students I can see how working to fix that problem makes sense. If minorities are dropping out because they are miserable or face prejudice from their teachers or are not getting access to resources, then looking at retention rates is a decent barometer of a whole lot of issues, and raising the retention rate would presumably mean fixing those issues.

Perhaps by raising retention rates to 100%, they meant that they intended to solve 100% of those problems. Commiting to raising the minorty graduation rates to the same level as non-minorities makes a heck of a lot more sense. Then again, it doesn’t sound quite as dramatic.

Hmmm. I tend to agree with even sven that it’s a bad idea to commit to a 100% graduation rate for any group of students. I work at a two-year college, and our mission (well, one of them anyway), is to prepare students for a four-year college or university. Now, we consider students who take both years and get a degree to be “graduates,” but, if a student transfers out after a year, have we failed in our mission? Probably not.

At another university, it might be the case that a student isn’t happy at the college and transfers elsewhere. Or there’s a family emergency and he/she drops out. Or the student goes abroad and doesn’t come back. (That happens a lot with education abroad programs.) And some students just are not ready for college–even though they may be ready at a later date, if they drop out, it does count against the graduation rate. There are so many reasons that a 100% graduation rate, even given the best of circumstances, is simply unfeasible. To “commit” to it seems to be setting the college up for failure.

I think that, more to the point, if you want to increase diversity on campus, then it’s going to be a question of recruitment, not retention. After all, you can’t retain students if they’re not already on campus, and, if, as you say, your campus has “extremely few Black and Hispanic students,” even a 100% retention rate is not going to affect campus diversity greatly. Your school should really focus on minority scholarships, financial aid packages, recruitment at the high-school level, and making the campus more welcoming to under-represented groups. One other point: if there are more minorities on campus, the minority retention rate is probably going to increase, because the students will not feel as isolated.

I just have a real problem with any “commitment to 100% graduation rate.” It just puts too much pressure on students–you have to graduate “or else.” Some students just might not be ready, and might need to get some real-life experience before they return and get their degrees.

In my experience, focusing on retention rates leads to truly dismal lowering of standards, and I don’t see why this would be any different just because it is also focused in on minority students.

I go to a good state school. We have some incredible, dedicated faciulty, and I have had an almost universally positive experience. However, the administration rate looks at retention as the bottom line, and is constantly using ham-handed techniques to up it–mostly these come down to lowering standarards, because the consensus seems to be that kids who don’t come back don’t come back because college is too hard.

In their latest manuver, freshmen can no longer fail classes. Don’t show up for the last ten weeks? You get a grade of “NC” (no credit). This is after they’d already pushed the drop date back to practically finals, put in free tutoring and counseling, etc., etc.

Since 100% retention (and even 80%) retention is impossible–after all, there are other valid life choices than a BA at the university you started in–administrations striving for the impossible will always eventually arrive at the idea that maybe what they need to do is make it easier. This dosen’t help the kids who don’t want to go to college, and the undercuts the quality and the value of the education that he dedicated students get: it tells them that the fact that they work hard dosen’t mean much, because the administration is more concerned with lowering the standerds for everyone else than in rewarding their efforts.
Retention efforts always seem to focus on the kids who leave ,and trying to find out why they leave. They ought to focus on the kids who stay, and find out why they stay.

I imagine there would be pressure on instructors as well – “You can’t fail this student or else.” It sounds like a completely indefensible goal unless the graduation rate among white students is already 100% (I see nothing wrong with striving to bring the graduation rate for minority students in line with the rate for the institution as a whole, as long as it’s not done through selective grade inflation). Nevertheless, I’d have serious questions about the academic standards of any college with a 100% graduation rate.

Perhaps instead of the lofty 100% graduation rate, they just should aim to increase retention for all students, but especially minority students.

Students drop out of college for a variety of reasons. Their classes might be too hard or boring. The particular university might not be meeting up to their expectations. Non-school related stress might be biting them in the ass. If you belong to a minority group–especially one with negative stigma attached to it–you’re more apt to feel like an outsider socially, and the regular problems concomitant with a typical 1-year college experience will be magnified.

When I was an undergrad, it wasn’t uncommon to be one of a few non-white, non-male students in a big lecture-sized classroom. Imagine having to do lab experiments by yourself because no one wants you as a lab partner. Imagine nervously asking a professor to help you understand why you did so poorly on ONE test and having that professor (who’s already assumed–quite wrongly–that you’re on athletic scholarship) tell you “Maybe you just can’t cut it here”. If you’re a visible minority (especially one associated with AA policies), chances are you’re more likely to regret coming to a particular institution after the first year than someone who isn’t a minority. Whether or not you decide to stick with it depends on a whole bunch of factors, most personal, some not-so-personal.

There was a special outreach office at my alma mater that assisted minority students–black, Hispanic, N. American, etc.–in forming social and academic-support networks at the university. One of its primary goals was to increase the retainment of minority students who might otherwise drop out after the first year. This was a challege because the school had an overall high drop-out rate. But it was successful (and still is, as far as I know) and helped produce graduates that were top-notch. So there are things that universities can do to help keep minority students without “lowering the bar” or favoring one group over another. I think that’s what the school in the OP has in mind.