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Panelists: More Work to be Done in Diversifying Graduate Education

Graduate school deans at top universities from across the nation say that colleges and universities can do more to diversify graduate education and avoid bias in current admissions processes in a Thursday webinar panel sponsored by Education Testing Service (ETS), GRE and Diverse: Issues In Higher Education.

Panelists Dr. Karen P. DePauw, vice president and dean for graduate education at Virginia Tech; Dr. Steven W. Matson, dean of University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill Graduate School, and Dr. Mark J. T. Smith, dean of the University of Texas at Austin’s Graduate School discussed barriers to diversifying an institution’s student body, fair and effective admissions processes and best practices to having and maintaining a diverse population during the discussion titled “Diversity in Graduate Education: Looking at – and Beyond – Admissions.”

Dr. Jamal Watson, executive editor of Diverse, moderated the conversation.

Dr. Mark J. T. SmithDr. Mark J. T. Smith

“If you’re going to diversify your student body it requires energy, you have to be intentional, it requires hard work,” Smith said. “In order for that to happen on the large scale, you really need a culture where people are willing to invest that kind of energy, it becomes the thing to do.”

DePauw said that graduate faculty and leadership are “critical in helping” universities “create a helping and affirming environment for our grad students.”

The panelists also discussed some of their institution’s accomplishments in building a diverse pipeline, including the creation between Virginia Tech and Historically Black colleges and universities.

UNC-Chapel Hill utilizes its Diversity and Student Success (DSS) program to increase the retention of its graduate students to help see them through degree completion. This initiative has yielded positive results, Matson said.

Smith said that UT-Austin faculty have reached out to schools across the state with high underrepresented minority populations and established a variety of partnerships.

All panelists agreed that having holistic approaches to the admissions process is is the best practice in order to avoid  biases that may arise in reviewing applications.

Dr. Karen P. DePauwDr. Karen P. DePauw

“We go out to these admissions committees and we give them the workshop and we talk about things like unconscious bias and we talk about the fact that the playing field is a level, and raise a kind of consciousness about how the value of having a diverse student population,” Smith said.

At UNC-Chapel Hill, the holistic admissions process means “considering every aspect of the student’s application, not just the GPA, not just the GRE score and certainly not just where the student went to school, but every aspect of the application,” Matson said.

Dr. Steven W. MatsonDr. Steven W. Matson

Exit and climate surveys are great tools for departments to fully understand students’ academic experience and how they view each program in terms of its diversity, inclusion and program structure, the panelists said.

“The consequences I think are serious, if we don’t have diverse inclusion, we are not providing the best education that we could,” said DePauw. “We use those tools to find out more on how we can improve the environment.”

Matson and Smith recommended that other institutions monitor, a site regularly curated by ETS.

“It’s got a a tremendous amount of good information on the admissions process, particularly on how you might begin to address ways to diversify your admissions process and how you can begin make changes on the admissions process,” Matson said. “It’s provides an example of what a number of universities have done, it’s a great resource … for programs to go to.”

Monica Levitan can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @monlevy_.

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