Kentucky Looks for Better Ways to Retain Minority College Students
Minority high school graduates are heading off to Kentucky colleges and universities in record numbers, but studies show they’re still lagging behind their White classmates when it comes to getting a four-year degree.
A study by the Council on Postsecondary Education reveals that while more minority students are enrolled in state colleges than ever before, an increasing number are leaving school before graduating.
The study shows the number of minority students enrolled at state schools has risen 34.6 percent since 1998. Minorities also make up 15.8 percent of all state university students this year, as compared to 13.1 percent in 1998.
But the study also shows the dropout rate of minority students has risen from 28.5 to 30 percent, while the dropout rate among White students has fallen from 23.5 percent to 22.1 percent.
To help close the gap, the council is getting ready for a yearlong study on ways for state schools to attract and retain more minority students.
“It’s inseparable,” says Sherron Jackson, assistant vice president for equal opportunity and finance at the council. “In order for the state to prosper, its individuals have to prosper.”
In Kentucky, the idea of diverse student populations is still relatively new. The federal government imposed a desegregation order on the state in 1981 because it felt Kentucky wasn’t doing enough to attract minority students.
In response, schools like the University of Kentucky instituted programs like the Freshman Summer Program, which allows minority students to come to Lexington in the summer before their freshman year to get comfortable in their new surroundings and to meet other minority students.
“It allowed me to learn more, become comfortable with campus and get involved in campus organizations,” says Rosalind Welch, a senior at UK who’s headed to graduate school in the fall. “I don’t think I would have been able to jump into campus headfirst.”
University president Lee Todd has put together a task force to search for ways to attract more minority students, including increasing the number of admissions officials to help promote diversity at the state’s largest school.
The University of Louisville has also added programs like the Society of Porter Scholars and the Association of Black Students.
Many minority students say the programs help acclimate them to what they perceive as the predominantly White social and academic atmosphere at the university.
“I know how difficult it is to get through school,” says Turkessa Priest, a senior at Louisville who founded the Black Student Nurses Association. “What I’ve noticed is Black students have special needs and other things going on outside of school hindering them from progressing.”
According to the study, only 33.6 percent of minority students who enrolled at state universities in 1998 had graduated by 2004. The number for Black students at Louisville is even lower — only 24 percent of those who enrolled in 1998 graduated by 2004.
Ed Laster, director of the Multicultural Academic Enrichment Program at Louisville, says the school needs to make sure it doesn’t forget about its minority students once it gets them in the classroom.
“The university hasn’t set the world on fire for its retention and graduation rates,” Laster says.
— Associated Press
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