PULLMAN, Wash. — Years of cultivation are paying off with significantly higher numbers of minority and women graduate students at Washington State University, according to Steve Burkett, assistant dean of the Graduate School.
This year’s record minority enrollments are expected to be eclipsed next fall, based on the responses from new students accepted for admission to the Graduate School, Burkett said.
The percentage of minority graduate students increased in 1997-98 by more than 10 percent across WSU’s four campuses. With a total enrollment of 317 students, minorities represent 10.7 percent of all graduate students.
The largest number and proportion of graduate women students was recorded this year on the Pullman campus at 938, or 46.5 percent of total graduate enrollment. It was the fourth consecutive year that the proportion of women enrolled exceeded 40 percent. Also, the 718 women enrolled full time is the largest number and percentage (45.2) of all full-time graduate students.
The number of minority graduate students on the Pullman campus reached 227 this year, 11.2 percent of the total graduate population — also an all-time high. The total is more than double the number enrolled just 10 years ago.
Chicano/Latino students make up the largest ethnic group, with 122 students enrolled system wide. Proportionately, this is equal to the state population of approximately 4.5 percent. Asian American enrollment reached 109 this year, and there are 56 African American students and 32 Native Americans.
Burkett said the figures represent the third consecutive year that the Pullman campus experienced a minority enrollment greater than 9 percent. Over the past five years, the combined increase has been 68 percent, ranging from a 96 percent increase in the number of Chicano/Latino graduate students to a 19 percent increase among African American students.
The university has made a strong commitment to the institutional goal of raising minority graduate student enrollments, Burkett said. For several years, the Graduate School has underwritten assistantships for some minority students for their first year of enrollment with academic departments. This year, the Graduate School provided support for 40 students, the majority of whom were from groups underrepresented in the university and in their disciplines nationwide. However, the accomplishments to date could not be achieved without the active participation of departments where admissions decisions at the graduate level are made, he remarked.
WSU must compete with the top schools in the country for the best and the brightest. But recent success in recruitment has brought the university much closer to the national averages. Published studies show that in 1995 ethnic graduate student enrollment nationally was between 15-16 percent. Women made up 56 percent of the graduate school population throughout the country in 1995. Given the nature of the university with a strong emphasis in the sciences, engineering and agriculture, not to mention the geographic location of the university, makes these increases in underrepresented students even more impressive, Burkett said.
More important than the numbers and proportions enrolled is the number of minority students who have completed degree requirements, he said. Comparing the periods 1989-1991 and 1995-1997, the number of master’s degrees has more than doubled, from 73 to 162; and the number of doctoral degrees awarded has exactly doubled, from 25 to 50. It is anticipated that these numbers will be even larger for the current year.
Involvement in a number of regional and national programs has helped raise minority enrollment nationally and at WSU, according to Burkett. Schools now have access to a greater range of potential students through programs such as the National Physical Science Consortium, National Science Foundation Scholars, Project 1,000 conducted by Arizona State University, the regional Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education Compact for Faculty Diversity and the Western Name Exchange.
Perhaps the single most important factor in the recruitment and retention of minority students to WSU has been the students currently enrolled or those who have completed degree requirements and gone on to new careers, Burkett said. “They have often extended themselves in rather extraordinary ways to assist in this process. WSU now receives many referrals from current and former minority students, and the currently enrolled students have been extremely helpful in assisting new students to get settled in Pullman,” he declared.
A member of the sociology faculty, Burkett joined the Graduate School a dozen years ago on a part-time appointment with the expressed role of developing a plan for attracting more graduate students from underrepresented groups.
He concedes that it can take years for a school to establish a reputation as being committed to supporting minority graduate education. WSU’s sociology department has had that reputation for more than three decades. Several of the nation’s best-known African American sociologists earned degrees at WSU.
Through some of those alumni, strong network connections have been developed. Florida A&M University, a historically black university with land grant traditions, has been the source of many minority graduate students at WSU. Burkett has been visiting the Tallahassee school regularly for several years. There are currently three FAMU graduates enrolled and four more have accepted for next fall. Eighteen are either attending or have completed master’s or doctoral degrees in recent years, including four who completed doctoral requirements this year.