Monday, December 8, 2008

What Universities Can Do to Graduate More Minority Ph.D.'s

The Chronicle of Higher Education
Thursday, December 4, 2008

Universities have long rued the stark disparity between minority students' share of the population and their share of Ph.D.'s, especially in engineering and the sciences. And three decades' worth of efforts by private foundations and federal agencies seem to have had only sporadic positive effects. But in a session here Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools, three scholars said there is no legitimate reason for universities to give up on diversifying doctoral education. Successful models are out there, the scholars said, and ought to be imitated.
In a nutshell, the panelists' advice was: Think broadly.
If universities want to diversify their doctoral programs, the scholars said, they should improve the academic climate for all of their students, not just for minorities. Universities should consolidate and coordinate the support that is offered by foundations and federal agencies, rather than relying on a hodgepodge of small diversity-related grants and programs. And universities should work together with their regional peers—and even with local school districts—rather than trying to solve the problem on their own.
"Diversity programs can only be successful if the climate for all students is a good one," said Janet C. Rutledge, interim vice provost for graduate education at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.
Ms. Rutledge's campus is among the 29 institutions participating in the Council of Graduate Schools' Ph.D. Completion Project, a seven-year effort to reduce attrition among doctoral students (The Chronicle, September 19). She said that the mere act of carefully measuring their attrition rates had caused many programs on her campus to be more thoughtful about recruiting, training, and overseeing their students. And students from underrepresented minority groups, she added, have disproportionately benefited from those changes.
Daryl E. Chubin, director of the Center for Advancing Science & Engineering Capacity, a project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, agreed that paying even modest attention to attrition patterns could pay huge dividends.

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