November 16, 2011

Graduate School calls for increased minority recruitment, fellowships for grad students

Graduate students make up a quarter of the 40,000 students at the University of Washington. Yet only 10 percent of those graduate students are underrepresented minorities – thats fewer than 1,000 students out of the 10,297 U.S.-resident graduate students on all three UW campuses, according to a report recently released by the UW Graduate School.

UW graduate students Rhoan Garnett and Roxanne Christian attend Getting Connected, a reception for underrepresented graduate students of color which is hosted each fall by the Graduate Schools Graduate Opportunities & Minority Achievement Program.

Eleanor Lee

UW graduate students Rhoan Garnett and Roxanne Christian attend Getting Connected, a reception for underrepresented graduate students of color which is hosted each fall by the Graduate Schools Graduate Opportunities & Minority Achievement Program.

“The Universitys vision is to educate a diverse student body, and while weve had some success, we are a very long way from making good on that promise,” said Gerald J. Baldasty, vice provost and dean of the graduate school, who led the team that put together the report.

The report is part of an ongoing series from the Graduate School on campus and national trends in graduate education. The Diversity Report present enrollment statistics, outlines the challenges the UW faces, offers solutions and presents a call to action. The report is posted on the UW Graduate School website.

The UW is falling behind, as its minority representation lags behind many other peer universities and fails to reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of Washington state. As of autumn 2008, the UW had the third smallest proportion of minority graduate students among its peers, including UCLA, University of California-Berkeley, Harvard University, University of Michigan, Johns Hopkins University, University of Arizona, Arizona State University and University of Illinois. Only the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Indiana University-Bloomington had smaller percentages of minority students.

“We have made some progress in the past decade, but its clear that we are not keeping up with changes in our state and nation,” Baldasty notes in the report.

Like the nation, Washingtons population is becoming increasingly diverse. In 2006-07, 24 percent of Washington college students were minorities. By 2021-22, the state projects that number to increase to 40 percent.

The Diversity Report points out some daunting challenges:  The states degree production is well below the national average, and Washington is not educating as many of its residents as most other states.  The UWs prospective graduate students are more diverse racially and ethnically than ever before, and they face obstacles on their paths to graduate education, such as fewer financial resources.

“Higher education is the key to economic prosperity and livable communities; if the UW does not do better, Washington state will suffer greatly,” the executive summary states. “The threat to our states prosperity — and to the well-being of our children and their children — is clear.”

While the UWs overall minority graduate enrollment numbers are low, a few UW graduate programs are making significant strides in enrolling minority graduate students. As of autumn 2010, 40 percent of the School of Social Works graduate students were minorities, followed by the School of Dentistry with 35 percent minority graduate students and the College of Education with 24 percent minority graduate students.

The Graduate Schools Graduate Opportunities & Minority Achievement Program (GO-MAP) is making a difference by providing approximately $600,000 a year in recruitment funding to about 25 departments. The Graduate School has launched an energetic advancement effort to build endowment funds for minority and underrepresented graduate and professional student fellowships for all UW schools and colleges. The recently posted recruitment and retention guide outlines best practices and plans for attracting minority graduate students to the UW.

In addition, minority recruitment efforts at the undergraduate level are beginning to work: 30 percent are the first in their families to go to college, and 40 percent are from minority backgrounds. The autumn 2011 freshman class has an average grade point average of 3.75 and SAT scores of around 1,800.

The report also details some of the successful recruitment and retention efforts by the Department of Psychology, the School of Social Work and the Department of Biology.

To build on these efforts and move forward, the report calls for the University to establish diversity as an immediate priority, create and support fellowships for graduate students, make endowments a focus of the next capital campaign and recognize that success depends on establishing a culture of diversity throughout the University.

The single biggest obstacle to recruiting promising graduate students of all backgrounds is money. The UW does not have enough money to offer competitive financial packages to prospective graduate students, the report states, based on interviews with UW faculty.

“The University of Washingtons long-term success — and that of our state — depends heavily on our ability and willingness to attract and retain a diverse body of graduate students,” the report concludes. “We must start now.”