Thursday, August 28, 2014

Minding the Graduate Education Gap

Derek Maness with Ambassadors

Finding solutions to our toughest problems requires multiple perspectives

A diverse student body enhances research, teaching, and the development of new knowledge; a multiplicity of views and perspectives is vital to the search for innovative solutions to global issues.

Yet the graduate student population at many universities does not mirror the racial and cultural diversity of our nation: although the number of 25- to 29-year-olds in the U.S. with a master's degree or higher increased among all races from 1995 to 2013, the gap between white and black or Hispanic students obtaining graduate degrees has widened in the past two decades, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

And with fewer people of color earning advanced degrees, faculty from underrepresented groups will be in short supply – which may negatively affect the enrollment trends of underrepresented students at both the undergrad and graduate levels.

To address this challenge, says Derek Maness, director of outreach and recruitment in the Office for Diversity in Graduate Education, “universities need to provide support and foster an inclusive environment for graduate students from a variety of backgrounds and experiences.”

For the past decade, Maness has been a major force behind the University of Minnesota's drive to increase diversity in graduate education.

At recruitment events across the country, Maness helps raise awareness about the myriad resources at the U for prospective graduate and professional students who are underrepresented in academia. Organizations such as the Association of Multicultural Scientists, the Black Graduate and Professional Student Organization, the Circle of Indigenous Nations, La Raza Student Cultural Center, and the Queer Graduate and Professional Student Associationprovide opportunities for graduate students to connect with others and join a supportive community within the University.

"Prospective graduate students need to know that there are many multicultural communities here," Maness says.

It’s also important for prospective students to know about the resources available to them beyond campus, says Maness. To that end, he helped develop a directory of Twin Cities multicultural resources and services that includes civil rights and community organizations, media and entertainment options, schools, and health and beauty services.

Maness also works with University faculty and staff to recruit underrepresented students. The campus-wide Graduate and Professional Schools Recruitment Council, which Maness founded, is a collaborative initiative that strengthens the University's ability to reach out to potential students. The council meets regularly and provides an online platform for about 35 faculty and staff members to discuss recruitment trends and best practices, diversity initiatives, and partnership opportunities.

Recently, Maness created a Recruitment Toolkit for faculty and staff. This website includes best practices, prospective student databases and recruitment resources to assist them in their efforts to diversify the graduate and professional student body.

Recruiting a diverse student body is challenging but essential. Maness’ collaborative and comprehensive approach is critical to growing the number of graduate students from underrepresented populations at the U. “Increasing diversity isn’t just one person’s job – it’s a collective endeavor,” says Maness. Because of his leadership, others throughout the University are empowered to contribute to the effort.

To learn more about diversity in graduate education, please visit diversity.umn.edu/gradeducation.

– Lyra Fontaine