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Effort to Increase Minorities in Higher Ed Needs to Start Early

Experts responded yesterday to a recent report about low college completion rates among minorities with ideas that included remedies from K-12.

While there is no quick fix, sponsors of the report, Minorities in Higher Education 2010, convened a panel to discuss the survey results and possible approaches to close the achievement gap.

The report found progress in college completion was virtually stagnant for African-Americans and Hispanics. It also showed younger minorities were slipping in their postsecondary attainment compared to their older peers. (See post.)

"For high schools, the culture of low expectations that continues to persist is a challenge that must be overcome if we are going partner effectively in increasing access to higher education," said Charles Martinez, vice president for institutional equity and diversity at the University of Oregon during the Nov. 17 webinar hosted by the American Council on Education. He suggested colleges work more closely with K-12 teachers and counselors to bridge the gap for minority students.

"Lack of preparation for college is one of the key barriers to access for underrepesented students," said Martinez. For instance, students who want to study physics in college need to get on the career path in middle school or earlier to develop the necessary math and science skills to succeed, he added.

Wanda Mitchell, vice provost for faculty development and inclusive excellence at the University of New Hampshire, said K-12 teachers need to closely track students to make sure they are mastering the material. She encouraged schools not only to focus on achievement in the classroom, but also to encourage student involvement in extracurricular activities to get students engaged and motivated to see college as an option.

On college campuses, the panelists suggested proactive diversity efforts to help minority students succeed. Mitchell emphasized the importance of offering adequate financial assistance and academic support in the evenings and weekends to accommodate non-traditional students. Establishing early warning systems, providing classroom assessment of learning, and engaging faculty more closely with students could also help with minority retention, she said.

"Interventions to increase access and success are relatively simple ideas, but not necessarily easy to implement," said Martinez. He suggested colleges focuses on strategies that are most effective and include diversity in strategic planning, along with measurable goals for achieving equity in education. When it comes to communication, Martinez said colleges should look at their messaging, looking at translations of material and other ways to be in tuned culturally to build trust with minority communities.

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