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Programs critical in reaching, retaining diverse students

Regents hear details of past year's gains

By Cathy Beuten

Gains are being made in attracting and retaining diverse students, explained Vicki Leal, University of Colorado director of diversity and P-20 initiatives, but there's still much more to be done. Leal and campus diversity officers provided the 2010-2011 diversity report to the Board of Regents during its meeting Tuesday, June 21, at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.

Diverse students, Leal said, include low-income, minority, first-generation, disabled, non-traditional and others, such as GLBTQ students.

Backed by student testimonials, campus diversity officers reported university programs such as CU's Pre-Collegiate Development Program have been successful in supporting non-traditional and under-represented students who might not have otherwise considered higher education.

UCCS graduate Jesse Perez, who received his bachelor's degree in communication, geography and environmental sciences, came from a small community in New Mexico where higher education wasn't often discussed. He stressed that the Pre-Collegiate Development Program and The Partnership in Innovative Preparation for Educators and Students (PIPES) programs were paramount to his success.

"I was on this destructive path and these programs are telling me I have something to go on. I'm like, 'Really, me?' They offered me support, the opportunity to take college courses in high school, they offered scholarships at high-school age," Perez told the board. "Along with my strong family support, these programs kept me going; they lit a fire under me all the way to get to higher education and beyond."

Graduate Maria Mendez, who received her chemical engineering degree at CU-Boulder, was born in a small village outside Guadalajara, Mexico, and grew up in Longmont. Mendez, the youngest of four children, explained that her parents had only received an elementary school education.

"I was disadvantaged in very many ways but I never let my background be a disadvantage. I was always proud of where I came from," she said. "I was very blessed to have teachers who had confidence in me and a counselor who approached me about the pre-collegiate programs at the University of Colorado."

The programs enabled her to meet others with similar backgrounds. After being recruited by both the Colorado School of Mines and Cornell, among others, Mendez decided to attend CU.

"The programs not only motivated me to attend CU but gave me the confidence for success," she said. "Being familiar with CU through the program, I wanted to be a CU Buff."

Among the campus gains included in the diversity report:

  • At CU-Boulder, minority enrollment in 2010-11 was at an all-time high for both undergraduate and graduate students, and a 7-percent increase over the 2009-10 enrollment for undergraduate and graduate students. Retention rates for full-time, first-time minority freshmen students are almost equal to that of white, non-Hispanic students, at 84 percent versus 85 percent, respectively.
  • UCCS reported a 5.9 percent undergraduate enrollment growth the past year, which includes increases in the number of African American students (+18.7 percent), Latino students (+19.3 percent), Native American students (+77.4 percent) and Asian American students (+11.7 percent). Overall, the number of minority undergraduate students at UCCS has gone up by 19.6 percent, now comprising 22 percent of all undergraduates and 28 percent of new Colorado resident freshmen. The proportion of minority assistant professors at UCCS has increased from 13 percent to 22 percent in the past year.
  • At the University of Colorado Denver and Anschutz Medical campus, the proportion of undergraduate students of color has increased each year since 2005, with a high of 30.9 percent achieved in 2010. Numbers of first-generation students attending the University of Colorado Denver have steadily increased since 2003, culminating in a current enrollment of 3,484 during fall 2010. Graduate students of color have consistently represented 12 percent to 13 percent of graduate enrollments for the past decade. In addition, during 2005-2009, the percent of health professional students of color at the Anschutz Medical Campus remained steady at about 21 percent, with an increase to 23.5 percent in 2010.

Regent Joseph Neguse acknowledged the gains, but stressed there is still much to be done.

"I went to the CU-Boulder commencement," he told Robert Boswell, interim vice chancellor for diversity at the CU-Boulder Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement. "You have there 4,966 non-minority students graduating and 62 African Americans graduating. I think we need to be doing better."

Boswell agreed. "We need to find a way to convince more diverse students to come to Boulder. One of the things we need to do is reach out into the community where there are more African American students."

Leal reported that in Colorado, when compared to their proportion in the overall population, black, American Indian and Hispanic students still lag behind white, non-Hispanic students in completion of bachelor's degrees, although modest gains were made for all but Hispanic/Latinos in the previous decade.

"There is a chronic achievement gap between Latinos, not in our state alone," she said. For the first time in the history of the census, the Hispanic population outnumbers African Americans in most metropolitan areas. The overall Hispanic population increased 42 percent the past decade to 50.5 million, or one in six Americans.

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