Diverse U? – A look at diversity at the University

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Once upon a time on a campus not so far from here, a University president spoke the words of a dream: to become one of the top three public research universities in the world.

Two years into the University’s strategic positioning plan, University President Bob Bruininks said the University is committed to its goals of access and equity for Minnesota students while striving to achieve worldwide recognition.

And although the University has undergone structural changes, such as the merging of several colleges and departments, Bruininks recently said, “We’re doing a lot of things to keep the University of Minnesota highly accessible to people from all economic backgrounds and cultural backgrounds.”

The number of students of color on campus reflects that commitment, having increased by about 20 percent since 2002. The percentage change of students of color in the overall undergraduate population on campus has increased 2 percent.

Bruininks cited the University’s high school outreach programs, Founders Free scholarship and community college transition programs as examples of its commitment to access and diversity.

The process of reshaping the University came from the mind of Provost Tom Sullivan in August 2004. In January 2005, the administration released its first draft report and launched the strategic positioning campaign.

One of the many changes to come out of this process was the closing of the General College and the birth of a new College of Education and Human Development on July 1, 2006.

CEHD now encompasses its old departments, the old College of Human Ecology and the former General College.

The past two years have been a transitional period for CEHD, particularly for its department of postsecondary teaching and learning.

PSTL has served a similar purpose as the former General College, assistant professor Karen Miksch said.

The students “have been taking similar curriculum to what we offered when we were the General College,” she said. “But again, it’s still a transfer program.”

This fall semester, CEHD will begin admitting first-year students for the majors within the college. PSTL will serve as a starting point for those students, Miksch said, and all first-year CEHD students will go through the PSTL curriculum.

Jennifer Engler, associate director for undergraduate student services in CEHD, said the first-year program is based on “universal design,” in which extra services are designed for students of a lower admissions profile, but the services are extended to all incoming students.

“Low advising numbers, advisers that you can get access to readily and frequently … every student can benefit from that,” she said.

In the days of protest against the closing of General College, hurting diversity was often one of the biggest fears students and faculty voiced.

About a year after the first round of strategic changes was implemented, Sullivan created the vice president and vice provost for equity and diversity position.

Rusty Barcelo was the first person hired for this position, and she said her first 18 months on campus have been focused on addressing the issues of diversity and multiculturalism in new ways.

Barcelo said students tell her there’s a need for more diversity among the faculty and staff, in the curriculum and especially among the student body.

To address the levels of support for multicultural students through the transition, Barcelo has charged each program office within the Office of Equity and Diversity to re-examine its mission and execution, she said.

“We not only want them to graduate, we want them to graduate at the highest level,” Barcelo said.

“I believe if you’re bringing students who have a few issues, but you believe in them … and if we provide the right kind of resources and the right kind of support, the students will achieve at the highest level,” she said.

The University recently created programs like the Bridge to Academic Excellence and Access to Success to meet the needs of students who may have previously been admitted to the University through the General College.

Vice Provost for undergraduate education Robert McMaster said Access to Success will admit its first 450 students this fall.

The students will be admitted to the college of their intended major, among CEHD, the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and the College of Liberal Arts, he said, and will be given extra support within the college.

Engler said eliminating the transfer aspect of the old General College model will serve students better.

Director of admissions Wayne Sigler said the Access to Success program will admit students whose application materials indicate “the potential for success in ATS.”

The program will hopefully increase retention and timely graduation among the students.

“The University believes that our success as a university is tied up with the success of our students,” he said.

While the old General College admitted as many as 875 students per year, in 2004 the University announced that this number would slowly decrease to 800 over three years.

Then-Vice Provost of undergraduate education Craig Swan told the Daily in 2004 that the college would be able to provide a higher-quality experience by slowly decreasing the number of students it admitted.

The Office of Admissions was also increasingly finding the students applying to the University were more qualified – a trend that has continued.

Overall, first-year admissions to the University increased in the 2004-05 school year, from 5,200 to 5,300, with CLA picking up the additional students.

In April 2005, Bruininks spoke to the Minnesota Student Association, as reported in the Daily.

An MSA member asked Bruininks to define “access,” and he said access was about success for all types of students.

“Access without success doesn’t mean very much to me,” he said.

The University had previously cited the General College’s low graduation and retention rates as one of its shortcomings.

The General College had previously served students who had not been admitted to the college of their choice, serving as a two-year starting point for students who then transferred to the college of their intended major.

Susan Warfield, program director for the Student Parent HELP Center, which the General College previously housed, said when she worked as a General College adviser she had many colleagues who were General College alumni and had come back to work in the program.

“That says something about a place of employment, when there isn’t much turnover and people want to stay that long,” Warfield said.

Despite the warm and inviting environment of Appleby Hall, as described by students and faculty, Warfield said as an outsider who came to the college five years before it closed, it was a difficult environment to break into.

“There were also some downsides of the ambience of the college. Sometimes we could be way too insular,” she said.

“We were very much our own entity and not connected to the other places on campus,” Warfield said. “I think that hurt the college in a lot of ways and led to the fact that we ultimately closed.”

As for the Student Parent HELP Center, Warfield said nothing but good has come from the changes. Her program is now housed in the Office of Student Affairs and has more visibility.