Dr. W.A. Kritsonis, National FORUM Journals, www.nationalforum.com
Enhancing Recruitment, Persistence and Graduation Rates of Students of
Color from P-22: The Roles of Senior Administrators in Higher Education
Karen Weddle-West, PhD
Rosie Phillips Bingham, PhD
University of Memphis
The article addresses the systemic nature of the problems that contribute to the
achievement gap between students of color and white students from preschool to graduate
school. The alarming rates of attrition and the disproportionately low numbers of students
of color who matriculate and graduate at every educational level are highlighted. Using
personal testimonies of programs, activities, grantsmanship, and by dint of sheer
perseverance, the authors delineate their efforts as Senior Administrators in Higher
Education to increase the number of students of color who persist through graduation.
At all levels of American educational systems, there are disproportionately lower numbers
of students of color who complete their degrees. Research shows that there are myriad
reasons for the truncated matriculation of students of color, ranging from underfunded,
under-resourced schooling to lower than average scores on gateway or standardized tests.
Despite the reasons, there is an increasingly urgent need to enhance the recruitment,
persistence and graduation rates of students of color from preschool to graduate school,
and the authors posit that senior administrators in higher education have a unique
opportunity and responsibility to serve as leaders in this process. The following will 1)
delineate the systemic issues surrounding the disproportionately lower rates of admission,
persistence and graduation rates of students of color from preschool to graduate school; 2)
articulate a theme permeating these disproportionate rates; 3) discuss best practices and
model programs that have been developed to enhance student success and diversity, and 4)
cite recommendations for other leaders in institutions of higher education.
The Achievement Gap from Preschool to Grad School
In “Parsing the Achievement Gap II,” Barton and Coley (2009) re-examined 16 correlates
of school achievement to further explain the disparities between minority and majority groups.
The 16 correlates of school achievement that were highlighted in this study were school factors
including: “curriculum rigor, teacher preparation, teacher experience, teacher attendance and
turnover, class size, availability of technology, and fear and safety at school.”… The nine
remaining correlates of school achievement were home and developmental factors, including
“birth weight, exposure to lead, hunger and nutrition, talking and reading to babies and children,
excessive television watching, parent-pupil ratio, frequent changing of schools, and summer
achievement gain/loss ” (p.7). These 16 correlates were first identified by Barton in 2000 and
revealed major differences in the quality of schooling and developmental factors between
Caucasians and African-Americans in particular. The follow-up study in 2009 was conducted to
determine whether or not the achievement gaps based on these correlates have diminished,
widened, or remain unchanged. Essentially, there are racial disparities in all of the
aforementioned areas, but the correlates that continue to contribute significantly to wider
achievement gaps or no changes in achievement gaps are:
• lead exposure with Black babies showing exposure rates four times higher than White
• hunger and nutrition with 29 percent of Black children “food insecure” in comparison to
12 percent of White children.
• teacher experience and preparation with Black children being taught by higher numbers
of inexperienced teachers or teachers who are not licensed in the discipline.
• teacher absence and turnover with Black children being taught by higher numbers of
substitute teachers and/or different, permanent teachers in the same year.
• fear and safety at school with Black children reporting high levels of fear at school and
being exposed to higher numbers of street gangs in school.
The literature is replete with research demonstrating the deleterious effects that the
aforementioned factors have on academic performance and explicate the reasons for the racial
differences in academic performance. “The achievement gap has deep roots---deep in out-of-
school experiences and deep in the structures of schools” (Barton and Coley, p. 33). However,
despite the variables, many students of color are resilient and overcome these obstacles to
academic achievement during the P-12 school years, and the same factors that contribute to the
success of these cohorts of students of color are those that contribute to their success in
undergraduate and graduate school. The following will address the differential rates of
persistence and graduation rates (a.k.a. achievement gaps) of students of color at the
undergraduate level and highlight the role of the Senior Administrator in altering the trajectory of
students of color at a Mid-South, metropolitan, research university.
Increasing Persistence and Graduation at the Undergraduate Level
Persistence in higher education is defined as the combined retention and graduation rates
for students in higher education. Persistence to completion of a four year college degree remains
a perennial problem for the United States. In 2006, the United States ranked tenth in the number
of adults over age 25 who have at least an associate degree (Bowen, Chingos and McPherson,
2009)), and during difficult economic times, public higher education is often one of the few
places where state governments will make cuts. The 2009 Obama administration has sought to
engage the public in reversing America’s educational drops by proposing that by 2020, the
United States should have the highest number of college educated individuals in the world
If degree completion for the United States as a whole is problematic, then degree
completion for African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans is especially troubling.
While only 50% of Americans who enter college for the first time achieve a 4 year degree after
six years, the rates for African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans lag far behind the
completion rate for White Americans. A 2009 Southern Regional Education Board reported that
among Americans 25 years and older, 27% of the population of White Americans held at least a
4 year degree, compared to 14 % for Hispanics and 16% for African-Americans.
Clearly, these rates of persistence to graduation affect society since holders of a 4 year
degree earn about twice the income of those who only complete a high school degree. It is easy
to see that the effects extend to quality of life for the entire society as we depend on taxes for the
very infrastructure of the country. Income level influences crime rates, educational attainment,
innovation, creativity, health and well-being, and other factors. It is imperative that leaders in
higher education work responsibly and effectively to increase persistence to graduation. Given
the disparity in rates of completion between White students and students of color, it is even more
imperative that leaders demonstrate a commitment to helping underrepresented students persists
to graduation. Certainly, some of us feel that responsibility, not only for effecting change in
populations of color, but for improvement in society in general.
The literature in higher education retention and persistence indicates that effective
interventions must be led and supported by effective senior level administration in order for
change to occur. Steepest changes will occur when the University President and Provost are
front and center in retention efforts. But involvement from any senior leaders can make a
difference. Upon my arrival at a midsize university in 1985, a thriving culture among the Black
students included hanging out in the student center, playing cards, and defining those students as
“Eurocentric” who chose to attend classes. Many of the students were losing their scholarships.
The Vice President for Student Affairs called together his senior Black leaders and asked for
interventions. As the Director of the counseling center, with the help of one of my staff members
and the cooperation of several students, Black Scholars Unlimited was established. The
organization was designed to be a prestigious and elite group focused on emphasizing academic
scholarship and honoring those students who achieved. In other words, we set out to change the
culture so that going to class became “cool.” The Vice President provided funding to the
organization so that the members could honor students of color who were on academic
scholarships. The Vice President provided support to me in using my time to get the organization
started and to serve as the advisor to the group. Since 1987, at its inception, the Black Scholars
Unlimited has initiated over 2,000 members into its ranks and maintained a persistence rate that
ranges from 84.7% to 98.8%.
Of course, the Vice President for Student Affairs did not begin his commitment to the
success of African-American students with the success of Black Scholars Unlimited. Years
earlier, he had established the Office of Minority Affairs and had the most desegregated Division
of any at the University. He may even hold the record for the most “firsts” senior level
appointments in the University’s history. So even when the entire University is not committed to
the retention and graduation of minority students, one senior level executive can make a
difference. Certainly, this White ally administrator supported my efforts to work on closing the
graduation gap between White students and students of color. I continue to view that
responsibility as part of my charge as the current Vice President for Student Affairs. It is up to
the leader to set the agenda for a focus on and a commitment to an equitable, diverse, and
successful student body. To this end, the mission, vision and goals of the Division of Student
Affairs clearly articulates that focus and commitment. “The mission of Student Affairs is to
foster student learning and promote student success through engagement and involvement in
community, academics, diversity and leadership.” Core values include high expectations for
students, developing leaders, developing a sense of belonging, and learning to live well together
in a diverse society. Our number one goal is increasing student retention and graduation.
Tinto (1993) and other scholars in higher education espouse the belief that minority
student social integration, academic preparedness, and campus climate all impact the retention
and graduation of minority students. Embedded in the mission, values and goals of the Division
of Student Affairs are these three elements. The following programs and material will
demonstrate our efforts to focus on these three.
Tinto maintains that when students are socially integrated in a campus community, they
increase their commitment to the institution, and such integration reduces the likelihood of their
attrition. So in the Division of Student Affairs, it is intentional to insure that students of color are
an active part of the community. For example, the Emerging Leader Program is an elite
scholarship program designed to recruit high leadership potential students to college and train
them to be highly effective leaders upon graduation from the University. When we realized the
percentage of students of color participating in the program was quite low, we actively partnered
with schools in the City School System in order to increase the visibility of the program among
the students who tend to be over ninety percent students of color. We immediately began to see
an increase in the number of underrepresented applicants. Today, the program regularly has 30 to
50 percent students of color. And because the program experiences a 90% five year graduation
rate the number of scholarships awarded to these students has more than doubled. Thus, there
was an increase in the number of students of color with the scholarships while there was also an
increased in the number of White students in the program.
There has also been work to encourage the general student body to be intentional about
social integration. For the last three years each candidate team for the President and Vice
President of the Student Government Association has been composed of a Black student and a
White student. The students’ actions reflect the sentiment of the staff. Since it is said that a
picture is worth a thousand words on this campus, we often look at the racial/ethnic composition
of student groups and programs. If the groups of students or programs represent only one
category of students the students are enjoined to reconsider the group or the programs. While
students make the final decision the senior administrators set the tone and the expectations. The
students have consistently decided to make the programs and groups more inclusive.
We have even been intentional about designing spaces on the campus in order to
discourage social segregation by race and ethnicity. When the student center was closed in order
to rebuild on the same site, most students and staff were forced into the main large eatery on
campus. The space had been divided by what came to be called “the wall” in order to lessen the
cavernous feel to the space. However, the design inadvertently encouraged the students to self-
isolate by race. These senior administrators openly and intentionally discussed the need to
redesign the space in the new student center to correct the problem. After three months of being
open, one of the regular comments about the new student center is that it now feels more open
and integrated. Programs, services, and facilities must help students become more socially
integrated in order to increase their commitment to the institution and reduce the likelihood that
they will withdraw from the University. Further, the research documents that virtually all
students across all racial/ethnic/ability/sexual orientation/income-level and so on desire more
intergroup contact (Humphreys, 1998). It is incumbent on senior leaders to implement that
Much of the research highlights the difference in preparation between African- American,
Hispanic, and Native American students and their White counterparts. Students of color from
these groups tend to have credentials that lag behind those of White students. Less prepared
students drop out more often than more well prepared students. In order to increase persistence
to graduation, sometimes colleges and universities change their admissions criteria. The role of
senior leaders is to insist that those changes do not adversely affect students of color. The
leaders at our University agreed to consider the research that supports the role of the student high
school grade point average as a more accurate predictor of success in college than is the
standardized college admissions test. The combination of the high school GPA and a college
admissions test score yields a formula that does not unduly hamper access for students of color.
Senior leaders must know the research and be willing to speak up for such scientific and moral
Additionally, the leader must advocate for programs that strengthen the academic skills
of minority students after they gain admission to college. Programs like the TRIO Student
Support Services (SSS) provide extra academic interventions that enhance student success.
Leaders must be willing to commit the resources that help assure the institution’s
competitiveness when vying to receive federally funded grants such as these. Upon becoming
Vice President, a team was assembled to begin the process of applying for an SSS grant. Our
team was successful in receiving a five year grant in excess of 1.2 million dollars. Our University
is a national leader in the amount of resources it commits to the SSS program. The university has
been rewarded with a program participant persistence rate of approximately 88%.
The University has further demonstrated its commitment by implementing a program
recommended by the Provost. The program is an early warning system that encourages faculty
to refer students at the first sign of trouble in the classroom. An office was established in order
to support the referred student. The Early Intervention Program is beginning to help in the
University’s goal of increasing student retention. The program depends on cross divisional
collaborations and represents an example of how leaders of color must fully cooperate with
majority leaders when they strive to improve access and retention. Even if the focus is not
wholly on students of color it is imperative that senior administrators enthusiastically embrace
programs that have high return on investments for students of color.
Campus climate matters in the successful retention and graduation of minority students.
Results from campus climate surveys can cause some discomfort for the senior leadership at a
college or university because, along with the positive reports, students also readily reveal what
can be viewed as negative about the campus. Negative comments cause the administration to
worry about the reputation of the institution. Yet interventions are most effective if they are
based on objective scrutiny of what students perceive about the environment. Leaders must be
prepared to support an investigation of the campus environment because of potential impact on
student retention. The literature clearly demonstrates that African-Americans perceive the
climate on traditionally White campuses as more negative than other groups. Within the African-
American student groups, males see the environment as more hostile than females (Delphin and
At this university, the first to second year retention rate for African-American males
reached a low of 59% in the early 2000’s. A group of African American male students were call
together in order to ask them to get involved in their own retention. They formed a group that
they titled Empowered Men of Color. The organization is under the auspices of the Office of
Multicultural Affairs (formerly Minority Affairs.) The students have significantly improved the
morale of numerous men of color on the campus. They are regularly elected into leadership
positions of various campus organizations and partner with majority group organizations to
sponsor special events and provide programs for young African-Americans in K-12. Perhaps,
most importantly, they are part of a movement that has seen their first year retention rate climb
from 59 % to about 70%. It is believed that their efforts helped to inspire more interest in the
Office of Multicultural Affairs in soliciting a grant designed to offer even more mentoring and
academic support to students of color. That office has now generated grants totaling about
$100,000, and program participants are experiencing first to second year retention rates
consistent with those of White students.
The literature documents that in addition to African-Americans experiencing a hostile
climate on traditionally White campuses, Hispanic students and Native Americans can have
similar, though usually not as strong, feelings and perceptions. A senior leader must be an
advocate for all students. Therefore, in 2007-2008, the first month-long celebration of Hispanic
Heritage was initiated, and establishment of the first Latina sorority on the campus was explored.
The third annual multicultural festival grew in size and diversity in 2010. All of these efforts and
others are part of the focus of the Vice President in helping the University communities
understand our great opportunity to help all students succeed and live well together in a diverse
The research (Humphrey, 1998) is clear that diversity initiatives improve retention of
underrepresented groups and improve cognitive development and satisfaction for all students.
While the students at the University continue to report on areas where improvement is needed,
students of all groups, majority and minority, are stepping up to engage in activities to improve
the campus culture as demonstrated by student programs such as the “Tunnel of Oppression” and
the “Unity Ball.” The students have taken very seriously our mantra of leadership development
and living well together in a diverse world. Evidence of the overall University success can be
seen in the increase in first year retention rate from around 70% in 2005 to over 75% and
climbing as of 2009. The retention and graduation rates for all groups of students are increasing.
Our results are reflective of what the research has now documented for years: Campus-wide
diversity initiatives reap tremendous benefits for all undergraduate students.
So what must senior leaders do?
• Accept responsibility for championing diversity initiatives and set the agenda
• Encourage and develop partnerships with all senior administrators in diversity efforts
• Initiate, lead, monitor, support and reward diversity efforts in areas of responsibility
• Speak up
• Find personal and professional support for your diversity efforts
Enhancing Recruitment, Retention, and Graduate Rates at the Graduate Level
The insidious pattern of racial disparities in recruitment, retention, and graduation
persists through graduate school. Again, many of the systemic correlates that explain the
academic achievement gap during the P-12 school years explain the underrepresentation of
students of color in graduate school. The following will illumine the data on students of color in
graduate school and focus on the role of the Senior Administrator in leading programs to
enhance the recruitment, retention, and graduation of students of color.
Overview of Research on Underrepresented Populations in Graduate Schools
Graduate education serves as the catalyst for systemic change in the promotion and
development of a diverse professoriate. The list of best practices for recruiting, retaining, and
graduating students from underrepresented populations continues to grow, resulting in enclaves
of diverse cadres of scholars matriculating in universities across the country. Despite the
growing awareness of the increasingly critical need to attract domestic and international
candidates to graduate programs, the data continue to reflect a relative dearth of women and
minorities in the disciplines of science, mathematics, engineering, and technology, with low
percentages holding PhD degrees in all disciplines.
A review of data from the National Science Foundation for the years 1995-2004 shows
promising increases in the number of women and domestic minorities who completed bachelor’s
degrees in Science and Engineering. In 1995, 363,463 S & E degrees were awarded to women
and underrepresented minorities including African- Americans, Latinos, and American Indians.
In 2004, 433,757 S & E degrees were awarded to women and underrepresented minorities,
representing a 19.3% increase. This increase is critical because these holders of the bachelor’s
degrees in the STEM disciplines are the primary targets for recruitment into doctoral programs,
where the total number of doctoral degrees awarded to women and underrepresented minorities
actually decreased between 1996 and 2005. In 1996, approximately 18,648 women and
underrepresented minorities earned doctoral degrees in Science and Engineering compared to
16,024 in 2005, representing a 14% change (Frase, 2008).
In the CGS (Council of Graduate Schools) publication, Broadening Participation in
Graduate Education (2009), it is reported that even though enrollment of international students
continues to be critical to the success and diversity of graduate programs in the United States, the
relative dearth of domestic minorities enrolled in graduate programs is of great concern,
particularly in light of the changing demographics in the US. Demographers predict that the
largest increases in growth among US citizens will continue to be Latinos, African-Americans,
and Asian-Americans, and yet the number of research doctorates among students from
underrepresented populations is 12% and only 10% in the STEM disciplines. The authors
distinguish between diversity and inclusiveness. Diversity is defined as a “mix of talented men
and women of all ages from all racial/ethnic groups,” including people from impoverished
backgrounds, those with disabilities, and first generation graduate students. Inclusiveness is
defined as the provision of faculty mentors, research assistantships, and fellowships to students
from underrepresented populations--resources that help to ensure the completion of graduate
degrees for all students (p. 9).
In one of the most comprehensive research studies to date of 9,000 doctoral students,
their lives, and factors affecting graduation and attrition rates, Nettles and Millett (2006) reported
that “approximately forty-five thousand students achieved a doctorate in the United States in
1999,” and international students comprised the majority of those doctorates ((NCES 2002 as
cited in Nettles and Millet, 2006, p. xvii). The sample was selected from the top 21 doctoral
granting institutions in the country. The findings from their research underscore disparities in
opportunities for research assistantships and for research publications with African-Americans
reporting the lowest rates of research publications and research assistantships during their
doctoral programs. These data are particularly important in those mentoring, supportive
environments, and research opportunities are among the strongest predictors of success in
doctoral programs and graduation. The aforementioned statistics illustrate the need for
comprehensive programs designed to increase the number of students of color in graduate
education, particularly in the STEM disciplines.
Diversity and Inclusiveness at a Mid-South, Metropolitan, Research Institution
Aligned with an institutional commitment, the Graduate School at this Mid-South, urban,
research institution proudly boasts a successful dedication to excellence and diversity. As a
result, the number of minorities in general, and African-Americans, in particular, matriculating
and completing master’s and doctoral programs at this University is substantial and exceeds the
average number of African-American graduate enrollment across the country. In fact, the Survey
of Graduate Enrollment conducted by the Council of Graduate Schools/Graduate Record
Examination (CGS/GRE) showed that the African-American graduate enrollment among the
total U.S. citizens and permanent residents was 11% in 2002 (or 117,873 of 1,089,671). The
Hispanic/Latino graduate enrollment was 7%; the Asian graduate enrollment was 6%, and the
American Indian graduate enrollment was 1% of the total graduate enrollment in the U.S.
(Council of Graduate Schools Office of Research and Information Services, 2004. Graduate
Enrollment and Degrees: 1986 to 2002). The difference between the percentage of African-
American graduate enrollment in the U.S. (11%) in 2002 and the percentage of African-
American graduate students enrolled at this University in 2002 (22%) illuminates the
commitment to and value the University places on enhancing diversity at all levels. This pattern
of enrolling relatively large numbers of students from underrepresented populations continues. In
the fall of 2009, African-Americans composed 27% of the total graduate student population;
domestic minorities composed 32% of the total graduate student population, and 42 % of the
graduate student population was the combination of international and domestic minority
students. This level of growth serves as testament to a successful recruitment model, an ongoing
commitment to diversity, and Senior Administrators committed to implementing “pipeline”
programs to recruit students from underrepresented populations.
Establishing Pipelines and Portals to Enhance Recruitment and Graduation Rates
Senior leaders in higher education should establish pipeline programs with P-12 schools
in urban areas to cultivate cohorts of graduate students. Literature suggests that early exposure
to career opportunities and the requisite academic preparation to secure these careers are key to
recruiting, retaining, and graduating students of color who hold Master’s and doctoral degrees.
Many students in urban, P-12 schools are completely unaware of opportunities and careers
available to those who hold advanced degrees. In fact, many students are completely oblivious
to the fact that Graduate Schools exist! While attending a recent national conference, an
executive of a major philanthropic organization was featured. This executive now holds a
doctoral degree but emphasized a complete lack of knowledge about graduate school until s/he
was a senior in high school and overheard a conversation among a group of college-bound
students during a bus ride. With this realization in mind, one of the programs coordinated by this
author was the Dean’s Summer Institute for Excellence in Teaching. The Dean’s Institute was
created by my mentor, the Dean of the College of Education, and was designed to expose
students of color to undergraduate and graduate education at institutions of higher learning. An
additional, primary purpose of the Dean’s Summer Institute was to encourage high achieving
students of color to consider careers in Education. Too often, professional school counselors at
the high school level state that many educators and a few counselors actively discourage their
“best and brightest” students of color from considering careers in teaching, in particular, and in
Education in general. To counter this discouragement from misguided educators and to pique the
interest of high achieving students, each summer, approximately 30-40 rising sophomores,
juniors, and seniors who attended the local high schools were selected to spend a week in the
College of Education. The students participated in college-level classes, worked in the state-of-
the- art chemistry and computer labs, took lessons in tennis, squash, swimming, and attended
workshops on developing culturally-responsive curricula. The week culminated with the
participants presenting their team projects to preschoolers on campus. The Dean’s Summer
Institute for Excellence in Teaching served as an excellent recruitment program as several
sophomores, juniors, and seniors who completed this program enrolled in undergraduate and
graduate programs at the University. In fact, one of the Directors of the Summer Institute earned
her doctoral degree at this University. While serving as the Director, she shared her inspiring
journey with the participants. Her story underscores the fact that with early exposure, goal
setting, mentoring, and supportive environments, one can move from a rising senior attending an
underfunded high school to a holder of a doctoral degree. It is the role of Senior Administrators
to create welcoming, supportive environments for all, to serve as mentors, and to identify other
faculty mentors who understand and appreciate the need to increase access to graduate education
for all students, particularly 1st generation graduate students and students of color.
A Model Pipeline Program at the University
The most commonly used strategy to recruit students of color into graduate programs is
to establish a pipeline partnership between a minority-serving institution and a majority-serving
institution. High achieving students are targeted early in their undergraduate programs, invited to
seminars and research forums at the destination institution, and aggressively recruited. The
pipeline partnerships tend to be mutually beneficial in the following ways: a) to generate
research collaborations and exchanges between faculty coordinators at both institutions; b) to
provide prospective graduate students from the minority-serving institutions an early opportunity
to interact with and be mentored by current graduate students who are nearing degree completion
and witness first-hand the success of their peers, and c) to encourage students at both the
majority and minority-serving institutions to become advocates and ambassadors for diversity
and actively recruit their peers into the doctoral program.
One nationally recognized model pipeline partnership at the University is the PhD
program in Philosophy and the undergraduate program at Spelman College. Recently featured in
The Chronicle of Higher Education (“Black Women Seek a Role in Philosophy” by Robin
Wilson, September 28, 2007), the number of African-Americans holding PhDs in Philosophy,
academe’s oldest discipline, is approximately 100 or 1%. The article further states, “the number
of black female philosophers has been inching up lately, thanks mostly to the graduate program”
at this University (p. B5). Approximately 30 of the 100 African-American PhD’s in Philosophy
are female and many are alumnae of this University. A faculty member in the Department of
Philosophy with expertise in “Race Philosophy” worked initially to establish the pipeline with
Spelman College, and now that feminist philosophy and race theory are focus areas of the
scholarships in the Department, women and African-American students enter this University
from different portals.
Grants Designed to Enhance Diversity and Increase Graduation Rates
Senior Leaders of Graduate Schools should also become actively engaged in grant-
writing to secure funds designed to recruit, support, and graduate students of color. This author
has received several grants from state, regional and national organizations-all designed to
increase access to graduate school and provide support for students of color. One of the most
recent grants awarded to this Senior Administrator was the CGS (Council of Graduate
Schools) /Peterson’s Award for Innovation in Promoting an Inclusive Graduate Community.
With funding from this award, a competitive grant process was created in the Graduate School.
Faculty members wrote proposals to recruit students of color into their respective disciplines.
The PhD programs in Philosophy, Rhetoric, Mathematics and the EdD in Counseling were
selected to receive funds to enhance diversity. The Department of Philosophy was selected
based on its impressive record of graduating the highest number of African-American doctorates
in the country and its contribution to race and feminist scholarship in philosophy. The funds
received from the CGS/Peterson’s Inclusive Graduate Community award were used to support
the “Ida B. Wells Philosophy Conference,” founded by African-American graduate students to
promote discussion of philosophical issues arising from the African-American experience and to
provide a context to mentor undergraduates. Speakers included stellar alumni and notable
researchers who shared their experiences with a select group of undergraduate students from
across the country. Conference attendees were recruited into the graduate program. Moreover,
the conference received considerable coverage in the local newspaper serving as the lead article
with five photographs.
The PhD program in Rhetoric established a pipeline with the local Theological Seminary
to recruit African-American scholars into the program. The Department used the CGS/Peterson’s
grant to sponsor a conference on the rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr. The conference was
held on April 1, 2008, at the National Civil Rights Museum and was coordinated with a host of
other activities and events commemorating Dr. King during the nationally recognized 40th
anniversary of his death. The conference was advertised extensively to the general public, to the
students at the University, and to students at other colleges and universities in the area. More
importantly, African- American doctoral students were recruited into the PhD program in
Collaborating with minority-serving institutions in grant-writing is another effective
method to increase the recruitment, retention and graduation rates of students of color. Senior
leaders at Graduate Schools are in a unique position to partner with Historically Black Colleges
or Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), and other minority-serving
institutions to write grants that are mutually beneficial. The author collaborated with the Dean of
Education at the local HBCU, and senior administrators from the LEA (Local Education
Authority), and a local Community College to write state-supported grants designed to create
seamless transitions for students of color from the community college, to the undergraduate
program at the HBCU, to the graduate program at this University. The grant was designed to
increase the number of licensed, minority teachers, many of whom were working on interim
licenses that were soon to expire. This post-baccalaureate licensure program produced more than
80 minority teachers who were licensed in their respective disciplines and employed in local
Identifying and Managing Funds to Enhance Diversity
Another critical role for Senior Administrators is to identify and/or manage sources of
funding to enhance diversity. This Senior Administrator has been privileged to administer
programs designed to enhance diversity and to allocate funding to students from
underrepresented populations. One source of funding was mandated by the federal government
to increase the number of African-Americans attending Traditionally White Institutions and to
increase the number of Caucasians attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities. This
particular source of funding was used to provide fellowships to doctoral students who were
underrepresented in their academic discipline, and it enhanced tremendously our ability to recruit
stellar students and to facilitate their degree completion. Over an 18 year span, more than 100
doctoral students were supported with these funds. Fortunately, the Governor chose to continue
this level of funding to increase access to all students who are underrepresented by race and
gender in their disciplines. It is indeed an honor and a privilege to serve as Chair of the selection
committee for our 1st
Generation Ph.D. Fellowship program. The recipients of these Fellowships
are males and females from all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and they are so
grateful for the funding that allowed them to matriculate at a doctoral granting, research
institution and become the first person in their families to hold a Ph.D. degree. Essentially, the
author’s role in recruiting doctoral students and managing these funds is among the most
rewarding career role.
Developing and/or Teaching Courses
Finally, the author has developed several graduate level courses in the areas of Culturally
Diverse Learners, Culturally Responsive Curricula, and Multicultural Education. Although these
courses were designed for graduate students from all racial, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds, the
majority of students who enroll are students of color. The objective of these courses is to
increase the levels of understanding and knowledge among professionals who work with diverse
populations which in turn increases their effectiveness in their roles. Such courses not only
inform teachers, social workers, and other professionals about the achievement gap; these
courses also require students to become innovative and responsive in developing programs
designed to diminish these gaps in achievement and performance. An additional benefit of
offering courses that focus on diversity and inclusiveness is that such courses serve as excellent
recruitment tools. Students from underrepresented populations often enroll as non-degree
seeking students in a graduate level course focused on diversity to assess the likelihood of their
success as a graduate student. After they have successfully completed the course, they are more
likely to apply as degree-seeking students.
Recommendations to Enhance Recruitment, Retention, Inclusiveness, and Graduate Rates
at the Graduate Level
• Senior Administrators should facilitate opportunities and/or venues for students of color
to network with other students from underrepresented populations. Such opportunities
are critical for recruitment and retention. The literature suggests that many students of
color experience feelings of being ostracized, or disconnected from their peers. Having a
safe space in which such students can feel connected may heighten self-efficacy within
and outside of the classroom setting. This sense of support is important in combating
negative feelings that sometimes arise from being one of few minorities in an academic
• Senior Administrators should place an emphasis on marketing doctoral programs to
students of color. In large measure, many students of color who are matriculating in
Graduate Schools were unaware of the existence of these programs until another student
or professor personally recruited them. Marketing doctoral programs not only increases
the quantity of applicants, but the quality of applicants as well. As more students of color
become familiar with the variety of graduate programs offered, the applications from
such students tend to increase. Having a more diverse applicant pool opens the door for
faculty members to admit a more diverse group of students into their respective
programs. Active recruitment leads to a domino effect; students of color often gravitate to
programs in which there are other minority students enrolled. Through more
heterogeneous cohorts of students, graduate students can use their cultural backgrounds
and experiences to assist in the learning process.
• Senior Administrators should appreciate and inform other faculty that those who mentor
students of color need not be of the same race or gender. Some faculty at the graduate
level believe erroneously that they can’t serve as mentors to students of color because
they are of a different race or gender. Both authors were invited to graduate school by
faculty members who were of a different race and gender; yet these mentors assisted the
authors through graduation and promotion to their Senior Administrator positions.
Essentially, all students desire simply a welcoming mentor who wants to provide
Senior leaders at all levels must take a holistic approach to enhancing the recruitment,
retention, and graduation rates of students of color. Given the systemic nature of the problems at
each level of education, we are losing students at an alarming rate, and this trend must be
reversed. If we as a nation are to reach the goal set by President Obama of being number 1 (one)
in degree production by the year 2020, then we must collectively seek ways to facilitate students’
persistence to high school graduation and increase access to institutions of higher learning. The
successful outcomes of each of the aforementioned initiatives, programs and/or research
activities include increased enrollment and graduation of students from underrepresented
populations, as well as a greater commitment to and appreciation for the richness of experiences
and strengths these students bring to institutions of higher learning.
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Karen Weddle-West, PhD is Vice Provost for Graduate Studies at The University of Memphis
Rosie Phillips Bingham, PhD is Vice President of Student Affairs at The University of Memphis