For the last month, about 50 recent high school graduates of color have been on the campus of Minnesota State University, Mankato, waking up at 6:30 a.m., and working in college courses and tutoring sessions until 11:30 p.m.
“The students call it an academic boot camp because it is quite rigorous,” says Dr. Michael Fagin, MSU’s vice president for institutional diversity.
In an achievement ceremony Thursday, MSU honored the 47 survivors of this summer’s boot camp — officially known as College Access Program (CAP), a program that has been a major factor in Minnesota State, Mankato, having one of the fastest growing populations of students of color in the nation.
Since 2003, the university in rural southern Minnesota has almost tripled its students of color from 440, or 3.2 percent of the student body, to 1,064, or 8 percent, in 2007. This remarkable increase is not a coincidence.
When Dr. Richard Davenport began his tenure as president in the summer of 2002, he studied the makeup of the community and campus, he says.
“It appeared to me that in terms of students, faculty and staff of color, that we were underrepresented in this institution,” Davenport says. “So my goal was to promote and is to promote diversity and multicultural education and a general sense of global awareness.”
His promotion has worked and the increase doesn’t seem to be flattening out any time soon. It appears MSU will welcome twice as many first-year international students and 20 percent more transfer students of color this fall than it did last year, officials say. And MSU expects to boost its Black and Asian student populations another 30 percent by next year — all towards the goal of having 11 percent of the student body made up of students of color by 2010.
“Nothing succeeds like success, and we feel very successful in the increases we’ve been able to make in the last five years,” Fagin says. “And we are very optimistic about increasing the population and seeing it double itself in the upcoming five years.”
To increase the student population, the focus has been on recruiting and retaining, an interrelated process, Fagin says.
“Retention and recruitment go hand and hand because students want to come to places where they can predict their success,” he says. “Some of these things are in place and are long standing, and we have capitalized on some of those stable programs.”
One of those stable programs is MSU’s annual Pan-African Student Leadership Conference, going on its 33rd year and known as the largest leadership conference for African-descended students in the Western Hemisphere, Fagin says. The university also annual hosts similar student leadership conferences for American Indians, Hispanics and Asians, each with histories of more than 15 years.
“Those conferences reach down into the high schools, into the junior high schools,” Fagin says. “They really attract a lot of students.”
In a larger sense what’s really bringing students of color to MSU is the institution’s ubiquitous presence in the state.
“We are all over the map here in Minnesota,” Davenport says.
It has office space in two high schools in Minneapolis. It has area alumni recruiters working to identify talented students of color. And it works closely with several community organizations in the state like the Urban League, which it regularly gives scholarships to, Davenport says.
Once these students arrive on the campus as freshmen, MSU is keeping them through a series of mechanisms. Its Intercultural Student Center serves as a haven for students of color, providing them with tutoring and counseling services and their organizations with space for meetings and events. Like a growing number of universities, it also provides services for students who speak English as a second language. And it showcases about 130 hours in diversity-related programming each year.
In addition, CAP — the four-week boot camp which doubled its students this year — is instrumental in retaining students as well. Surviving students are not only admitted to the university, but they sign a two-year contract in which they pledge to stay in the dorms, participate in structured learning and excel in their studies. The retention rates of CAP participants, who receive tutoring and counseling services from a CAP staff, actually exceed the general rates of the university, Fagin says.
“Retention is important,” Davenport adds. “We would rather enroll fewer students and get them more attention and have them be successful, than enroll a bulk of students.”
Maurice Pendleton, a junior music industry major from Minneapolis where MSU recruits most of its students of color, has watched the number of students of color grow suddenly before his eyes. And it has encouraged him, he says.
“It makes me want to stay here longer and do as much as I can to help this college diversify the campus,” he says. “It makes me want to work harder.”
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