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Sec V – Diversity in Student Development and Retention

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V. Diversity in Student Development and Retention

My academic success could not have been possible without a strong support structure consisting of mentoring, instructional assistance, scholarship support, and cultural organizations. I believe that all students should have these support elements to help them succeed at this very challenging institution.

Felipe Mendez, Graduate Student, Public Affairs

Articulating a Strong Student Development Model

The University of Washington recognizes that a strong social and academic support structure enhances the persistence and academic success of students. Research on student development conducted over the past several years suggests that underrepresented students are most successful when their academic training is complemented by social, cultural, and artistic development. Furthermore, a university education has significant social and economic benefits for all students and society at large. Diversity is an integral part of this equation. As Gurin et al. articulate: “Students educated in diverse settings are more motivated and better able to participate in an increasingly complex democracy. […] Students can best develop a capacity to understand the ideas and feelings of others in an environment characterized by the presence of diverse others, equality among peers, and discussion under rules of civil discourse” (2002).

The University of Washington established as a goal of supporting and retaining underrepresented students through graduation at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Preliminary findings from the diversity appraisal reports suggest that the UW has a fairly well established support structure to enable students’ persistence through graduation both at the undergraduate and graduate level.

However, the breadth and scope of these efforts, as well as the level of commitment from faculty and staff to retention efforts, vary from department to department. Some departments have a number of elements designed to help students to graduate in a relatively seamless fashion. Other departments express a strong commitment to student development and retention, but lack the resources to develop strong retention components to help students persist through graduation. On balance, however, colleges and departments have made positive contributions over the last several years to the retention infrastructure that supports diverse students.

Institutional Support for Student Development and Retention

Numerous offices across the Seattle campus share the responsibility for student development and retention. At the undergraduate level these include: The Office of Undergraduate Education, the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, the Office of Minority Affairs, and the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Relations.
The Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs publishes and widely disseminates brochures, posters, and other documents that emphasize the value of diversity within the context of our institution. Individual units in Student Affairs also integrate diversity components into their daily activities through workshops, presentations, scholarship, support services, and staff participation. The mission of the Office of Minority Affairs is “to ensure the access and academic success of a diverse student population through the advancement of knowledge, academic excellence, diversity and the promotion of values, principles, and a climate that enriches the campus experience for all.” The Vice Provost of Student Relations serves as an advocate for minority programs and students and administers the President’s Student Forum for the Office of the President.

Students are represented in institutional policy through the Associated Students of the University of Washington (ASUW) and the Graduate and Professional Students Senate (GPSS) at the Seattle campus. Both the Bothell and Tacoma campuses have dedicated offices to support student development and retention. Each campus has programs that work with graduate and professional students, and each campus has its own student government organization (ASUWB and ASUWT). The Graduate School is one of the key units responsible for graduate student retention. In addition, the School of Law, the Business School, and various health sciences provide discipline-specific support to their students.

Student Retention

Successful undergraduate and graduate programs have some key ingredients that make them attractive to diverse students. In addition to supportive faculty and staff, these departments often include diverse students in a whole range of departmental activities (e.g., social events, colloquia, student organizations, departmental committees, etc.) that connect them to the culture of the department and allow them to contribute in significant ways to the success of individual programs. The University of Washington graduates 60% of all minority students in the state of Washington. Many of these students are now our state’s teachers, lawyers, civil servants, engineers, and the like. In the last decade, through these collaborative efforts, the University has increased underrepresented freshmen retention to 89%, up from 77% during the 1985-1990 period. In addition, the University has also increased underrepresented graduation rates from 36% to 58% between 1985 and 1990.

The development and retention of undergraduate students is the responsibility of many units on the Seattle campus. The Office of Undergraduate Education plays a particularly important role in these efforts by providing administrative leadership, academic and advising programs, and instructional and scholarship support to strengthen undergraduate learning. The Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs has responsibility for enhancing student life on campus and promoting student development through a variety of programs and services. These include the Office of Enrollment Services, Disabled Student Services, Center for Career Services, Department of Housing and Food Services, Department of Recreational Sports Programs, Student Activities and Union Facilities, Student Counseling Service, and Office of Student Financial Aid.

The Office of Minority Affairs has responsibility for providing high quality academic support services to enhance the persistence and academic success of more than 4,000 students from diverse backgrounds at the University of Washington. Key components include the Equal Opportunity Program Counseling and Advising Center, the Instructional Center, the federally funded Student Support Services program, the Ethnic Cultural Center and Theater, the Early Identification Program for Graduate and Professional Studies, the OMA Health Sciences Center Minority Student Program, and the federally funded McNair Scholars Program.

At the departmental level, targeted advising, tutoring services, scholarship support, and appropriate referrals to academic support services are key components of retention. Many departments have programs designed to increase student retention and success. Across the UW, staff and faculty play critical roles in the retention of students through their individual advising, classroom instruction, and undergraduate research mentoring.

The Graduate School on the Seattle campus has a variety of services that are designed to support the retention of graduate students. The Student Services Division provides advice and guidance to units and departments, as well as graduate students, on graduate school policies and degree requirements. The Fellowship and Assistantship division works with departments and graduate students on the identification of Teaching Assistantships, Research Assistantships, and Fellowships. The Center for Instructional Development and Research works with individual departments and instructors (both faculty and teaching assistants) to assess and improve teaching and learning in the classroom. The Graduate Opportunities and Minority Achievement Program is the primary unit responsible for providing retention support to underrepresented students at the graduate level.

Professional schools on the Seattle campus have dedicated support programs and resources to support professional student development. For example, the Office of Multicultural Affairs in the School of Medicine provides graduate school support for prospective medical students or graduate students interested in medical degrees and the School of Nursing has dedicated staff members that work with diverse students in their graduate nursing programs.

Faculty and other support staff have the responsibility of retention at the graduate level within each academic department. Typical support structures include an annual orientation to the department, faculty mentoring, teaching assistant, research assistant, and fellowship support, general academic support, mini-courses and workshops on the graduate school process, and the availability of written policies and guidelines that explain the structure for getting students through each graduate program. Funds to support graduate students have also been raised, due in part to the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists Foundation and other private donors who support graduate education.

Examples of Good Practice

  • Integrating diversity into all aspects of departmental culture. The Department of Communication works to forge connections between all departmental initiatives, including curricula with substantial coverage of diversity; strong leadership from faculty of color who serve as role models; encouragement given to students of color; scholarships; and the Native Voices program. Retention of diverse students in the School of Nursing is successful through a series of integrated efforts ranging from diversity workshops to curricular transformation and establishing affiliation agreements with community agencies where students can practice and study in diverse communities.
  • Fostering undergraduate and graduate student teaching and research on diversity. The Center for Curriculum Transformation pairs undergraduate students with faculty members to develop new diversity courses, providing students with knowledge and skills related to curriculum design. Multicultural Freshmen Interest Groups (FIGs) provide opportunities for FIG leaders to teach in multicultural settings. The Graduate Opportunities and Minority Achievement Program assists in developing research clusters of graduate students and faculty members conducting new research on diversity.
  • Creating interdepartmental collaboration and partnerships. Many reports indicate that successful departments are willing to collaborate with other units and reach out across the campus to strengthen their support and retention infrastructure. The First-Year Programs Office, working with the Office of Minority Affairs, provides incoming freshman and transfer students with an introduction to the University of Washington designed to provide support and individual attention to these diverse populations. American Ethnic Studies has partnered with Women Studies and Comparative History of Ideas to run an interdisciplinary writing center with peer-to-peer tutoring.
  • Designing programs to increase student retention and success. Some departments report that they have developed specific outreach efforts to encourage underrepresented students to consider their majors. For example, the Business Educational Opportunity Program (BEOP) is dedicated to helping underrepresented students achieve success in the UW Business School by providing assistance with admission, scholarships, and academic advising and tutoring services. BEOP works with pre-business and business students to ensure a smooth transition to the Business School and an enriching educational experience. To help incoming graduate students adjust to the substantial differences between their undergraduate experience and graduate school, the Department Chair and Associate Chair for the Graduate Program in Biology have developed a new team-taught course entitled “Graduate Professional Life.” The Department of Physiology and Biophysics recognizes that all students are unique and have vastly different educational needs and has developed advising and placement procedures that have increased retention and student success.
  • Enhancing mentoring activities. Managed by the Center for Workforce Development in the College of Engineering, the Faculty-Graduate Mentoring Program encourages women to pursue faculty careers. The program provides one-on-one mentoring with a UW faculty member and career development seminars on making the transition from graduate student to faculty. The UW Alumni Association and the Office of Minority Affairs offer the UW Mentor Program to help undergraduates of diverse backgrounds succeed academically and lay the foundation for careers.
  • Supporting student-driven retention efforts. The Pacific Islander Partnerships in Education is focused on supporting the success of Pacific Islander students through student peer-mentoring and other academic support strategies. The program received the Brotman Diversity Award in 2003 for success in working with Pacific Islanders to succeed academically at the University of Washington.

Challenges and Recommendations

  • Comprehensive and consistent advising across departments. While many departments have excellent advisors guiding students through their academic careers, there is inconsistency in the approach and content of advising across the University.* In addition, the University needs to develop a comprehensive diversity plan for general and departmental advising.
  • Enhancing support for graduate students. Insufficient funding to bring talented graduate students from diverse backgrounds is a major impediment for successful graduate recruitment and retention efforts. Women Studies remarks “it is clear that our inability to offer substantial, and multi-year, funding packages is a major reason…students have chosen to attend other programs and schools. A broad funding strategy from the Graduate School and the UW would be extremely helpful.”
  • Bridging geographical divides. There appears to be a disconnection on the Seattle campus between upper campus and south campus on issues related to graduate retention. Each area appears to operate independently, and there appears to be little collaboration between the Graduate Opportunities and Minority Achievement Program and Health Sciences graduate programs in the delivery of support services to students of color.
  • Creating consistently transparent and inclusive structures for departmental decision-making. Some departments report they are making admissions policies and other departmental decisions more transparent and in some cases have included students in departmental decision-making.
  • Developing assessment tools to examine retention and graduation rates. We need to increase institutional research that focuses on retention issues for students from diverse backgrounds. We also must develop a robust institutional diversity database and appropriate assessment tools to examine retention efforts across the campus.

* The recent report Academic Progress of Undergraduates on the UW Campus addresses these issues:

Next: Section VI. Diversity in Engagement with External Communities