PULLMAN, Wash. — In just five years the number of minority students attending Washington State University has increased from 1,800 to more than 2,700.
In large part, this is due to WSU’s team approach to recruit students of color. WSU has worked hard to establish partnerships with businesses, elementary, middle and senior high schools, and community colleges and technical schools.
The Washington State Office of Public Instruction (OSPI) recognized WSU for its model to recruit and retain students of color. WSU’s program was acknowledged for its early outreach program and its utilization of the student’s support network. OSPI also recognized the university’s program is easily adaptable to other schools.
Dr. Terry Bergeson, superintendent of Public Instruction, said WSU recognizes the value of a diverse student body and the richness it can add to higher education. The university should be congratulated on its efforts, she said.
Milton Lang, the special assistant to the president at WSU, said, “You need to have an institutional commitment and a message that goes out to the community at large that diversity is something that’s needed and is a part of the fabric of the institution.”
Since WSU has been successful with its recruitment and retention efforts, OSPI has funded the production of a videotape and booklet that will serve as a training tool for other Washington state educational institutions. Dr. Andrew Griffin, assistant superintendent for Higher Education and Community Outreach at OSPI, facilitated the project.
Griffin funded the WSU production of an 18-minute video and booklet titled “Effective Strategies to Recruit and Retain Students of Color” with the help of the Department of Education Title II Teacher Quality Enhancement Project.
WSU also employs a five-step plan to recruit students of color. Recruiters go as far as western Montana, and throughout Washington, north Idaho and northern Oregon.
The five steps include student recruiters, relationship building with students, effective programming, communication with the students’ support system and quality transitions.
To recruit students, WSU has programs in place in Seattle, Tacoma, Pasco, Goldendale and other Washington cities to motivate teen-agers to seek higher education through interactive workshops and classroom scenarios.
The university’s main goal is to expose students of color to options in higher education, said Herb Delaney, assistant director for Community Relations with WSU Multicultural Services. The university wants the students to go somewhere after high school, even if they decide not to attend WSU, he said.
Ted Howard, principal at Cleveland High School, said, “This is a godsend to have a college program come to our campus and actually talk with the students and give a career fair that’s covering the entire school.”
Bergeson said through these programs the university is able to attract a wide variety of students to campus who may not have otherwise pursued an advanced degree.
Howard said when the recruiters visit Cleveland High School, students who wouldn’t otherwise consider attending college begin to think it is a possibility for them.
Felicia E. Gaskins, WSU associate vice provost who supervised production of the video and booklet, said this is important because the United States’ fastest growing populations are minorities and immigrants.
“The United States has the best system of higher education in the world. However, we must educate all of the nation if we are to keep pace with rapidly changing needs of the country,” she said.
Once the university recruits the students, it aids in their transition to college and provides them with tools to succeed.
“To create a positive learning environment, the university has taken steps to ensure support systems are in place to not only attract students, but also keep them engaged in both campus life and academics,” Bergeson said.
The Office of Multi-cultural Student Services is at the center of WSU’s retention plan. It is comprised of four student-run ethnic centers, which include the Native American Center, the African American Center, the Chicano-Latino Center, and the Asian American and Pacific Islander Center, and an academic enrichment area. At the centers students are offered free tutoring, computer time and academic-related workshops.
More importantly, the centers create an atmosphere that serves as a “home away from home” for the students. Kyle Funakoshi, Asian American and Pacific Islander student counselor, said the community provides the comfort. “There’s an instant relationship that is born because a person is of that ancestry,” Funakoshi said. WSU also utilizes an effective student mentor program.
The retention efforts have proven effective. WSU has retained 60 percent of its Asian American and Pacific Islander students, which is above the national norm. (An update in late fall states the retention rate for first-time, full-time freshmen is now 75.9 percent)
Therefore, OSPI hopes other educational institutions can learn from WSU’s model. Griffin said its goal is to make sure every college campus uses these principles set forth by WSU.