African American Enrollment Down in U of M Graduate Programs

Updated: 06/03/2014 7:52 PM By: Brandi Powell

The number of African Americans in graduate and professional programs at the University of Minnesota is dropping quickly.

It's a problem that negatively affects the U of M and the state, according to the Dean of Graduate Education, who acknowledges, recruitment and retention strategies cannot stay the same.

In 2014, 338 African Americans were in grad school at the U of M. That's down from the 400 who were there, for masters, Ph.D and professional programs, in 2010.

It's a 15 percent drop, and a faster decline - proportionately - than the national average according to the U of M's own research.

"We need to be taking some kind of action, because this is a problem," said Sally Kohlstedt, Ph.D., Acting Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education at the University of Minnesota.

In a snapshot of Big 10 schools - numbers from the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, which includes several Big 10 members, but is not strictly Big 10 - indicate Ohio State and University of Michigan tend to have the most African Americans in graduate programs; University of Nebraska and Penn State - the least; and University of Minnesota - is near the middle.

Why this is happening, is hard to tackle.

"National and proportionately we have a smaller African American population in this state than we do elsewhere, so we have that demographic," Kohlstedt said. "But that doesn't explain what's happening right now. I don't think we have a good explanation."

"I do think there's a tradition of, particularly of African American students, being less willing to take out -- debt -- to fund school," said U of M Ph.D student Abdul Omari, who's also on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.

Omari is in the Comparative and International Development Education Ph.D program at the U of M. "And when I think about, even my graduate program and my experience I knew that if I didn't get funded, I wasn't going to go to graduate school."

To make sure that doesn't happen to future students, the U of M is turning a part-time position with "Community of Scholars," which focuses on underrepresented minorities, into a full-time position. Plus, it's working with graduate studies directors, connecting African-Americans with other blacks during their campus visit.

"We want to make sure we're getting in the right numbers and we want to be sure that once students get here they have the right experience, that they're going to be successful, they're going to make it through in a timely fashion and they're going to have careers after they leave," Kohlstedt said.

And important to note, the U of M's stats show the drop in African American enrollment is even steeper, in its law and medical schools.

Kohlstedt says another tactic for change, is to work more with African American students at the K-12 level in Minnesota, to create a stronger pipeline for the students beginning at an earlier age.