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Regents seek to boost minority retention

BY EMILY BUSSE | APRIL 30, 2010 7:30 AM

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The state Board of Regents will try to cut the 13.7 percent gap between graduation rates of non-minority students and underrepresented minority students in half by 2016.

The goal is just one of many outlined in the regents’ 2010-16 Strategic Plan presented at their meeting Thursday.

Regent President David Miles said this plan is the first time the regents have set specific targets for graduation rates. The rates are at 68.4 percent for non-minorities and a 54.7 percent for underrepresented minorities — a 13.7 percent difference.

“[We want to] make sure we have greater success rates for our underrepresented minorities,” Miles said. “We want all of our students to succeed at the highest possible level.”

Although there isn’t a numerical designation for an underrepresented minority, Regent Robert Downer said academic performance data indicated African American and Native American students performed considerably lower than white and Asian American students. Latino students performed only slightly lower than whites, Downer said.

The “considerable disparity” in graduation rates is an important issue to address, according to cultural groups on campus.

Compared with the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University, the UI graduates the lowest percentage of its African American students, 43 percent. ISU graduates the most African American students at 54 percent.

UI senior Dominic Dagen, a student program coordinator at the Afro-American Cultural Center, said these types of goals are extremely important for the university to set.

People at the center tend to notice the numbers of minority students from one class dwindle over the four years to graduation, she said.

“It seems as if a lot of color students are not staying around or they’re just not motivated,” Dagen said. “I’ve felt myself that the university needed to take a proactive role in student retention.”

Theresa Heitz, student programming director at the Latino Native American Cultural Center, agreed the problem has more to do with retention rather than recruitment.

“It’s important that they not only get students to come to the university but they actually finish out their entire experience here,” she said.

Miles said the strategic plan will hopefully be a success in part because the regents have set specific, measurable goals.

“It is something I have pushed for over the years,” he said. “We have a plan that has accountability.”

Heitz, who is a Native American student and involved with the American Indian Students Association, said one way the gap between graduation rates can be diminished is with emphasis on academic culture programs such as the African American Studies Program or American Indian and Native Studies Program.

Dagen, a co-president of the Black Student Union, said finding comfort at the UI is one of the biggest factors in whether minority students stay at the university. Many can experience culture shock coming to the predominantly white UI, something she said officials should keep in mind.

“There are some points where [minority students] are going to seem uninterested, but if you create a sense of caring, a community, and say, ‘We want you here. We are excited you’re here,’ you’ll get the students to say, ‘OK, I’m excited to be here,’ ” Dagen said.

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