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Minority Enrollment Lags In Race-neutral Washington


Despite eight years of effort, minority enrollment is still down at Washington colleges and universities after voters passed an initiative outlawing racial preferences in admissions.

Black, Hispanic and American Indian students are less likely to go from high school to college, and more likely to drop out, than their White peers. And fewer than 5 percent of faculty members in the state are members of any of those ethnic groups.

Yet minority groups are the fastest-growing segments of the population, expected to grow from 22 percent to 28 percent of Washington’s total by 2020.

“I think there has been progress, it’s just been slow progress,” says Ricardo Sanchez, an associate director of education policy for the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board. “People are feeling more and more the need to do better.”

A draft report by the HEC looked at Washington’s diversity efforts since the passage of Initiative 200 in 1998, and recommended improvements.

Educators gathered Monday night at Spokane Falls Community College to discuss the report, the first in a series of forums statewide.

“To many of us, the issue of diversity has a sense of urgency,” said Ben Cabildo, a board member for the Community Colleges of Spokane. “It affects our lives on a day-to-day basis.”

Dr. Gary Livingston, chancellor of the community college system, said he’s become accustomed to hearing about good programs that end after a year or two when the money runs out.

“There are so many false starts in what we do that we fail to see students through,” he said.

Among the report’s recommendations: establishing pre-college summer scholarship programs for minority students to bring them to campuses; expanding college outreach in high schools and junior highs; offering incentives and visiting professorships for faculty members of color; and developing goals for diversity.

The report concludes that, while minority enrollments have recovered from a drop after 1998, they’ve now stalled or declined across the board.

This summer, the Community Colleges of Spokane spent about $10,000 advertising faculty openings in the Seattle and Tacoma area, in the hopes of attracting more diverse candidates, Livingston says. But it didn’t produce an increase in the schools’ minority faculty.

One reason may be that Spokane remains a largely White community, he says, noting that “Diversity begets more diversity.”

While I-200 banned specific racial preferences and quotas in admissions, universities have remained committed to broadening ethnic diversity.

Melynda Huskey, assistant vice president for equity and diversity at Washington State University, says her institution is more closely studying enrollment data.

She says WSU’s first Equity Scorecard showed that Black students make up 2.7 percent of full-time undergraduates, but just 1.3 percent of degrees in science, technology, engineering and business.

Eastern Washington University just hired its first faculty fellow for diversity, Dr. James Ochwa-Echel, who will teach, help develop multicultural curricula and guide overall diversity efforts.

But the HEC’s draft report concluded that, while individual schools had undertaken several diversity initiatives, they “do not address a greater need for systemic change.”

Sanchez says colleges have done a good job of increasing enrollments over the past few decades. Currently, most ethnic minorities enroll in college at about the same level as their overall proportion in the state population, with the exception of Hispanic students.

But overall academic success rates show a different picture. Sanchez cited a U.S. Census Bureau report that said that between 1971 and 2001, 33 out of every 100 White kindergartners went on to earn a college degree.

For Black kindergartners, that figure was 18. For Hispanics, it was 11. For American Indians, it was seven.

— Associated Press


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