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IU Group That Helps Minority Students Faces New Challenges


An Indiana University program that gives Black students a head start and counseling to boost their chances of getting a degree is facing new challenges.

Established in 1968, the Groups Student Support Services program has helped more than 9,000 minority students with a the first in their family to complete four-year degrees. Most are Blacks from low-income families, but some participants have disabilities.

Early this year, IU trustees called for the universsity to double the number of under-represented students, primarily six-week summer program, counseling and advisers. But new pressures might bring additional expectations and changes to the program, which targets students who are trying to become Blacks and Hispanics, by 2014. At the same time, IU has toughened admissions requirements.

That could mean refining the role played by Groups, which in a typical year is responsible for bringing in about half of the new Black students at IU’s main campus in Bloomington. Stephen L. Ferguson, president of the board of trustees, says the board is serious about increasing student diversity. “That’s an important part of the trustees’ January statement and something that the whole board is very supportive of and has priority on,” he told The Herald-Times on Sunday.

Just over a decade ago, the program was facing an uncertain future and a negative image, with fewer than a quarter of its students graduating from IU. An outside review called for changes, which succeeded in tightening its focus on academics and devoting more attention to advising and mentoring services.

Since then, graduation rates have doubled, and a review last November said the program was meeting its goal of helping first-generation college students succeed. This spring, the Education Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based organization, honored the program as a “best practice” for promoting student success.”

It doesn’t look anything like it looked 10 years ago,” says Janice Wiggins, director of the program since 1996.

IU’s overall six-year graduation rate is about 70 percent, while the rate for Groups students who started in 2000 is about 50 percent. Wiggins says many of the program’s students face financial pressures that make it hard to keep up with their peers. Some work 20 to 30 hours a week, while others leave Bloomington for regional campuses to live with family and pay lower tuition. But she says many of the students get their degrees even if it takes 10 years.”

It sticks with them, wanting to get this degree,” Wiggins says.

IU provides the bulk of the funding, about $3.3 million, with another $420,000 a year from the U.S. Department of Education, says Dr. Neil D. Theobald, senior vice provost for budgetary administration and planning.

— Associated Press


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