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Sec IV – Diversity in Student Access and Opportunities

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IV. Diversity in Student Access and Opportunities

The world in which we live is increasingly diverse and interdependent. It is absolutely essential, therefore, that UW enrollments reflect this indisputable fact, drawing from and striving to prepare a cross-section of our community to work together effectively and constructively in service to the broader good.

Ernest R. Morris, Vice President for Student Affairs

The University’s Commitment to Access

The University of Washington Mission Statement underscores a commitment to broad access for potential students from diverse communities and educational opportunities, envisioning community with “ broad representation of and [encouragement of] sustained participation in that community by its students, its faculty, and its staff […,] and it extends educational opportunities to many who would not otherwise have access to them.” Widening participation in higher education and increasing college readiness among all students, especially students from diverse backgrounds yields a student body reflective of Washington State. Equally important, broader participation produces an institution strategically positioned to tap the full range of energy, creativity, and critical thinking from diverse voices and perspectives.

Pre-College Outreach

The University has made a commitment to expand outreach and recruitment efforts to K-8 students and high school students in order to encourage them to enter college. These efforts include: providing information to students, teachers, and families about college opportunities, ways to finance education, and how to best prepare students for college work; expanding the availability of college preparatory courses and resources; and offering support for teachers and counselors so they can effectively work with students from diverse backgrounds.

Some pre-college outreach programs on the Seattle campus include: Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), Upward Bound, Educational Talent Search, Student Ambassadors, and EMPOWER Programs, and the appointment of a dedicated, full-time recruiter to work with area community colleges. In addition, the Women’s Center’s Making Connections Program targets high school students who are interested in exploring careers in math, science, and technology through mentoring and college preparation activities. The Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology (DO-IT) program provides outreach services to students with disabilities, K-12 educators, and families. These programs reflect a substantial commitment to develop an “educational pipeline” that encourages diverse students’ access to the University’s undergraduate programs.

UW Tacoma has a number of innovative programs that reach out to the community while promoting higher education to pre-college age youth. For example, UWT’s Social Work program developed student internship placements for both baccalaureate and masters students on the Hilltop, an ethnically diverse and impoverished area of Tacoma that borders the campus. The Office of Enrollment and Student Affairs participates annually in the Tacoma/Pierce County Ethnic Fest and in college information fairs coordinated by faith-based organizations. UWT’s Department of Information Technology has been in dialogue with the Boys & Girls Clubs, HOPE VI, and other groups serving disadvantaged individuals, exploring how UWT can offer opportunities to become familiar with various technologies and consider UWT for further education.

There are a number of departmental efforts to cultivate underrepresented pre-college students as majors. The College of Engineering, for example, has several programs: Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement (MESA), Alliance for Learning and Vision for Under-Represented Americans (ALVA), and the Minority Science and Engineering Program (MSEP). Some departments have developed high school visitation programs that bring students to the campus as a way to introduce them to the college environment.

Combined, these outreach programs connect with more than 20,000 diverse students annually, building awareness about college opportunities, creating exposure to University life, and providing hands-on college preparatory training. Furthermore, recruiters from the Office of Undergraduate Admissions (UGA) and the Office of Minority Affairs interact with more than 40,000 high school students each year via on-campus visits and appointments, as well as off-campus visits, discussing the University’s admissions requirements. During the 2002-2003 academic year, UGA had contact with 41,200 students, while OMA Recruiters connected with 3,235 students.

Undergraduate Admissions

Bowen and Bok (1998) and Guinier and Torres (2004) underscore the importance of re-conceptualizing the admissions process to reflect more closely the purpose and goals of higher education as the educating of individuals who contribute in meaningful ways to the development of their own communities and society at large. The UW Board of Regents is committed to pursing strategies that will increase diversity at the University, and since the passage of I-200 in November 1998, UW has implemented many new initiatives and programs in response to the removal of race, gender, and national origin from direct consideration in admissions decisions. The University has revamped its admissions criteria to conform to new legal frameworks, while at the same time ensuring the recruitment and matriculation of a diverse student body.

The University of Washington has a comprehensive undergraduate admissions policy that is sensitive to issues of diversity and is compliant with the Washington Civil Rights Act (I-200), which prohibits preferences based on race, color, national origin and sex in admissions. The UW admission policy states:

The University’s policy is to offer admission to those applicants who are the most able to benefit from and contribute to the University’s educational resources. In selecting the freshman class, the University does not make its admission decisions solely on the basis of predicted academic performance. Important academic objectives are furthered by classes composed of students having talents and skills derived from diverse backgrounds.

Admissions policies at the Bothell and Tacoma campuses parallel those of the Seattle campus (both at the undergraduate and graduate levels), although they also reflect the individual needs and realities of their communities. Because UW Bothell and UW Tacoma admit students during the junior year, the explicit focus of their undergraduate recruitment efforts is community college transfer students. At the graduate level, student recruitment is regional in scope with an emphasis on graduates from Washington State colleges and universities. Applicants for graduate degrees at Bothell and Tacoma use the central Graduate School application for most graduate programs, while applicants for professional programs apply directly to each respective department or school.

transfer students. At the graduate level, student recruitment is regional in scope with an emphasis on graduates from Washington State colleges and universities. Applicants for graduate degrees at Bothell and Tacoma use the central Graduate School application for most graduate programs, while applicants for professional programs apply directly to each respective department or school.*

Graduate Recruitment and Admissions

Diversity among graduate students is essential to the University’s research and teaching missions. Graduate students engage in the creation and dissemination of knowledge in their fields of study and serve as teaching assistants. “Diversity of backgrounds and approaches can enrich the process of discovery, the ways of thinking about solving problems, [and] the multiple modes of communicating ideas” (Boyer Commission Report, 1998).

Analysis of the diversity appraisals reveals that recruitment of diverse graduate students continues to challenge the institution and individual departments. The Office of Graduate Admissions provides leadership in the development of criteria for admissions to the various UW graduate programs. In 2001, Graduate Admissions instituted an optional personal statement that students might use to highlight attributes in addition to the Statement of Purpose required by most departments. The Graduate School’s Graduate Opportunities and Minority Achievement Program staff coordinates the recruitment of diverse students to the University and works in collaboration with centers and departments in the sciences to pool resources and partner in establishing and maintaining institutional relationships with minority serving institutions.

Graduate admissions data indicate that some increases in the number of students of color since 1998, although the graduate student population does not yet reflect the rich diversity of our state and nation. From 1998 to 2003, African American enrollment increased 6.3%, while Asian Americans increased 22%, and Hispanics 30.8%. The only decline occurred among Native Americans, from 26 in 1998 to 22 in 2003, an 18.2% drop.**

In academic departments, individual faculty or dedicated outreach staff members work to recruit graduate students. Some faculty members attend national recruiting conferences and discipline-specific professional conferences where they can connect with students. Reports described effective recruitment when collaborating with the Graduate Opportunities and Minority Achievement Program, and when using resources such as the Western Name Exchange, the National Name Exchange, and the National McNair Database. The Graduate School Fund supports expanded departmental recruitment of students. Admissions decisions are made at the departmental level, often through the work of a faculty admissions panel.

Examples of Good Practice

  • Identifying students and preparing them for college. Women Studies participates in the Keys to Success Fair, which brings high school students to the UW campus to learn about educational opportunities at the UW. The Office of Multicultural Affairs in the School of Medicine uses U-DOC, a program for high school juniors and seniors that encourages exploration of careers in health fields. The College of Engineering’s Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement Program (MESA) prepares K–12 students for science and engineering careers. The Department of Earth and Space Sciences has several outreach programs that work with underrepresented students across the state to strengthen science education, research and knowledge, including the Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium, the Space Science Network Northwest, and classes designed for elementary and secondary school teachers.
  • Supporting pre-college educators supports the education pipeline, improves curricula, and helps underrepresented students before and after they enroll at UW. The School of Nursing partners with middle and high school counselors and teachers, who, in their day-to-day interactions with students, are well positioned to facilitate student awareness of how to prepare for college and a future nursing career. The Department of Comparative Literature created the Texts and Teachers program to link UW-taught courses with parallel courses in Seattle Public high schools. The Applied Mathematics GK-12 Program places Fellows at Thurgood Marshall and Leschi Elementary to help the teachers implement a mathematics curriculum that meets State of Washington and National Council on Teaching Mathematics Standards.
  • Working effectively to integrate local, state, and federal programs for student success. The UW State GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) Project in the College of Arts & Sciences is a multi-faceted college preparatory program that serves the State of Washington. The College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences has attracted over $1 million in federal support over the past five years, and the College has invested $250,000; the funds have been used to create outreach partnerships with local tribes, programs to involve undergraduates in international language and science education, and in K-12 outreach for inner city schools.
  • Providing financial support. The University of Washington has expanded its portfolio of scholarship opportunities to include new forms of recognition (such as the Merage Award for students from diverse international backgrounds and experiences). The Diversity Scholars Program was created to help the University achieve the goal of educating the full range of the state’s citizens, and is supported by fundraising events such as the Costco Scholarship Fund Breakfast. Other important fund-raising efforts to support undergraduate students include the Multicultural Alumni Partnership Breakfast and events sponsored by the Friends of the Educational Opportunities Program. The Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation and numerous private and corporate donors support graduate education.
  • Supporting undergraduate student-initiated outreach programs. The Student Ambassadors, an outcome of the UW Diversity Compact, visit high schools, work directly with diverse students on the application process, and provide them with information about University life. Another mentoring program organized by students, EMPOWER (Encouraging Minority People to Overcome with Education and Respect), supports high school seniors as they develop their perceptions of social justice, reflect on aspects of multiculturalism, and prepare for their transition to college.
  • Promoting interdepartmental collaboration and partnerships with units across campus. The Office of Admissions and the Office of Minority Affairs work collaboratively to increase undergraduate diversity enrollment through the development of admissions policies and a student prospecting system that allows the staff to track, communicate, and promote campus recruitment events. The College of Engineering works with various partners on and off campus to offer numerous opportunities to diverse populations of prospective students including those at the K-12 level and at community colleges. These efforts include high school visitations by Engineering faculty and students, hosting open houses, or programs such as King County’s Opportunity Skyways and GEAR UP.
  • Partnering with minority-serving institutions. The School of Dentistry participates in the Heritage Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement to enhance the research environment at Heritage College, a minority-serving institution in Toppenish, WA. The overall goal is to increase the interest, skills, and competitiveness of Heritage College students in their pursuit of biomedical research careers. The College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences has established a co-operative bachelor and master’s program in fishery sciences with Tuskegee University.

Challenges and Recommendations

  • Enhancing pre-college advising and outreach efforts. The success of existing pre-college advising and outreach efforts to widen participation of students from diverse backgrounds underscores the importance of making these services available to all students throughout the state so they can benefit from higher education.
  • Aligning admissions policies with broader University goals. Continued examination and development of admissions policies will align them with the broader mission of the institution, graduating informed and productive citizens who will contribute to the development and leadership of communities across the state, region, and nation.
  • Increasing funding and financial aid. Research indicates that one of the major obstacles to attending college for students from diverse backgrounds and first-generation college students is lack of financial resources. Many units express a strong desire to increase financial support for students from diverse backgrounds; unfortunately, they have limited resources to do so. The University must continue to cultivate and enhance private, foundation, and state and federal sources of funding to support all students, both in terms of need-based and merit-based awards.
  • Implementing concrete strategies to support increased outreach and student opportunities. Across the three campuses, many units articulate a strong commitment to diversity, but many departments lack the resources to realize these concretely. Therefore, the UW must continue to generate and support expertise for addressing issues of diversity to assist individual faculty and staff members, as well as instructional and administrative programs, across the three campuses. The University also needs to build and support a team of experts from the three campuses to provide training and resources to departments that are interested in improving their own diversity efforts at the undergraduate or graduate level.
  • Creating a mechanism for acknowledging units and departments that utilize collaborative interdepartmental approaches to diversity. Developing a recognition system to encourage units and departments to work closely with undergraduate admissions officers in the recruitment of students from diverse backgrounds would further strengthen a cohesive system for supporting students in the process of preparing for, applying to and graduating from the UW.

*Undergraduate enrollment data for the past several years can be found at:
**Graduate admissions and enrollment data for the three campuses can be found at: and

Next: Section V. Diversity in Student Development and Retention