Attracting and Retaining a Diverse Student Body: Proven, Practical Strategies

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Graduate schools in the United States have made a philosophical commitment to support greater diversity, including attracting and retaining students of color. With an increasingly diverse U.S. population, recruiting and retaining a diverse student body is critical. This paper offers some practical suggestions for accomplishing at goal, based on the author's practical experience with adult students. Graduate programs of public administration and nonprofit management need to increase the number of students of color who enter and continue through graduation. A widespread philosophical commitment exists among graduate schools in the United States in support of greater diversity, including attracting and retaining students of color (Council of Graduate Schools, 2003; Bass et al., 2003). For NASPAA members, this commitment is articulated as accreditation standard 6, "reflecting specific concern for the representation of minorities" (NASPAA, 2006). The basis of this need for programs of public administration and nonprofit management is still more fundamental. The national population our graduates serve is increasingly diverse. The percentage of the population who self-identify as a race other than "white alone" was 26.9 in 2000, compared to 19.71 in 1990 (U. S. Census, 2002). In addition, a substantial proportion of our experienced public servants are retiring. The projected new retirements of permanent, fulltime federal civil service employees is increasing. About five years ago, the annual retirement levels of these workers was about 41,000; but 58,031 were projected to retire in 2006 (Office of Personnel Management). The annual projections then increase to an annual level of 61,267 in 2009 (Office of Personnel Management). Similarly, about half the AFSME membership of state, county, and municipal workers are over age 45, with about 54 percent likely to leave the workforce by 2008 (Houlihan, 2001). The question is how to attract and retain students of color. Although recruitment and retention are frequently addressed as separate issues, this is not actually accurate. Recruitment and retention are simply part of the same continuum. Considerable research has been devoted to the question of recruitment and retention for undergraduates (Swail, 2003; Tinto, 1982). At the graduate level, some interesting models have been offered for large institutions with strong financial institutional commitments targeting science and technology programs, while other models consider graduate programs for doctoral students without regard to race, through not in the fields of public administration or nonprofit management (Bass et al., 2003; Golde, 2005). The importance of students feeling integrated into the institution and supported by the faculty are recurring themes (Guiffida, 2005; Swail, 2003; Tinto, 1982). Practical barriers exist to attracting and retaining students of color. One of the more critical for the purposes of this paper is the demographic characteristic of most faculty members (Johnson-Bailey, 2003). As a whole, U.S. faculty members are overwhelmingly white, non-Hispanic, and middle class--80.8 percent as of fall 2003 (Cataldi et al., 2004). Some programs are more successful than others, however. In the nonprofit management graduate program of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, where I teach, for example, more than 50 percent of the students are people of color; their retention rate is more than 75 percent. Though the college is by tradition a small private Catholic women's institution, with few economic resources to devote to this priority, these levels are no accident. This paper offers some practical suggestions for accomplishing the goal of attracting and retaining a diverse student body, suggestions honed by our practical experience and the suggestions of members of our adult student body. CR - Copyright © 2007 National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA)

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  • Ann Whitney Breihan

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