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September 17, 1998

OPINION / Jack L. Daniel

A recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Black Students: 'Miles to Go,'" cited the Southern Education Foundation's finding that, "In the measure that most concerns the Foundation, the percentage of black college graduates, Pennsylvania reflected the minimal growth." The foundation's emphasis on the number of black college graduates is consistent with my view that, for far too long, we have focused on means to ends such as high enrollment percentages, and debated whether to use four-, five- or six-year graduation rates. As I indicated last year in my report to the chancellor, "The 21st Century African American Student Agenda: A Matter of Higher Expectations," the focus, instead, should be on graduating students with very high-quality affordable degrees in a timely fashion. My report encouraged the University to focus on outcomes such as high grade point averages and graduation rates, majors in fields of greatest societal demand, graduate school attendance, and obtaining employment at rates at or above the institutional norm. To realize these outcomes, the University should exhibit high academic expectations for African American students, by providing the requisite support services for their success. Recently, there have been indications at Pitt that we are witnessing the dawn of a new era exemplified by a renewed commitment to the education of African American and other under-represented students. Consider the following examples:

* Beverly Harris-Schenz, the new associate dean of Arts and Sciences, has responsibility for all students in our most central academic unit. Her demonstrated commitment to academic excellence, significant administrative history and determination to enhance student diversity portend well for those aspects of the "institutional will" needed to achieve greater academic success of all under-represented students. She will complement well Dean John Cooper's high academic expectations and commitment to implementing a comprehensive Arts and Sciences recruitment, retention and graduation program in which two important minority student programs, UCEP and FOCUS, will be integrated.

* Associate Dean Kathleen DeWalt has developed a comprehensive strategy for recruiting and retaining under-represented graduate students, and $415,000 has been allocated to support the first year of this plan.

* To enhance access, the College of General Studies is developing an articulation agreement with a community college that enrolls large numbers of minority students.

* Carol Calloway, Greensburg registrar and Chancellor's Distinguished Public Service Award winner, in addition to her current duties, has been appointed special assistant to the president for Minority and Diversity Affairs. We should soon see the positive results of that new appointment.

* Bartholomew Okechukwu Nnaji, Alcoa Foundation Professor in manufacturing engineering, led a review of the School of Engineering's student diversity programs. Dean Gerald Holder and his staff already have taken steps to address recommendations in Professor Nnaji's report. These include: formation of external and internal advisory committees; diversity training for the internal committee; closer interaction between IMPACT, Investing Now and the departments, and increased efforts to recruit Investing Now graduates.

* The Provost's office is in the preliminary stages of designing a study to discover the "best practices" for minority student education at Pitt.

* The Provost's office is partnering with the Graduate School of Public Health and the Katz Graduate School of Business to develop innovative programs. A total of $90,500 has been allocated to support minority graduate and professional students.

* With funding of $350,000 from the Robert Wood Johnson and W. K. Kellogg foundations, and $450,000 from the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC Health System, a comprehensive pre-college through college program was launched to increase minority participation in the health sciences.

* Our Admissions and Financial Aid office continues to bring to the Pittsburgh campus a greater mix of educationally talented minority students, while maintaining access for educationally disadvantaged students. This fall, we enrolled one of the most talented cohorts of traditionally under-represented students, posting gains in SAT scores and high school ranks. These students surely will do their part to change the faces of the mountains in their lives. Our task is to do everything possible to work with these students to ensure that they graduate in a timely fashion with high-quality degrees and highly satisfactory experiences.

At Pitt, we too have "miles to go" in terms of implementing diversity initiatives, but the good news is that we have entered a new era in which our focus for all students is on academic access and academic success, increased enrollment rates and increased graduation rates. To make the most of this new era of student diversity, borrowing from a statement by Chancellor Nordenberg regarding the University as a whole: "The University's most prominent characteristic should be an unrelenting commitment to excellence, the successful pursuit of quality in everything we do…." With the senior administration leading appropriately, we shall succeed.

Jack L. Daniel is vice provost for Academic Affairs.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 31 Issue 2

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