GW brings in researchers to study campus climate for minority students

GW hired a pair of researchers from the University of Maryland to study its level of support for multicultural students, part of a years-long push to improve enrollment and retention rates.

The researchers will interview current and former students to gauge the climate of diversity on campus – information that a top GW leader said will help steer an overhaul of the Multicultural Student Services Center.

Terri Harris Reed, the University’s vice provost for diversity and inclusion, said the team will also study retention rates for minority populations.

“What is it that we’re doing that’s actually having an impact on whether or not students are succeeding?” Reed said, adding that the study would also focus on “whether or not we are actually implementing what research says are the best practices to help students persist and retain.”

Maryland professors of higher education Alberto Cabrera and Sharon Fries-Britt will lead the study starting this fall.

Cabrera has spent more than a decade researching low-income and minority students in college settings, focusing mostly on retaining students.

“Many colleges and universities are concerned about what factors enable students to come to universities and succeed. But they try to launch programs – many, many programs – and most of the time, they don’t ask their students or they don’t see what are the impacts,” Cabrera said.

The Maryland researchers, assisted by a group of graduate students, will conduct focus groups of students who transferred from GW, and those who stayed.

Recently, universities have sought to collect and use this kind of data “in a more savvy way,” Cabrera said. That’s likely a direction GW will take, as its newly hired enrollment manager, Laurie Koehler, is already planning to look more strategically at enrollment and admissions statistics.

Fries-Britt spent 30 years as a consultant on diversity issues for schools including Princeton and Johns Hopkins universities. She did not return requests for comment.

The University has seen increasing minority enrollment in the past decade, with about 26 percent of last year’s freshman class identifying as black, Asian, Hispanic, Pacific Islander or multiracial.

Graduation rates for those populations have ticked up as well, hovering around the GW-wide rate of about 80 percent, though data is slow because it’s collected six years after a student enrolls.

Reed said she hopes a revamped focus for MSSC will help GW fill in the information gap when minority students drop out of GW.

“There are times you can look at people and say, ‘Their GPA was fine, they didn’t owe us any money – so what happened?’” Reed said.

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