Raising Retention and Deepening Diversity at UMD
by Rachel Brown
UMD’s first year retention rate is the highest it’s been in school history. At 78.4 percent, UMD has recently reached an all-time high in first year student persistence for the fall 2015 freshman class, but is not yet at the goal of 80 percent.
“Eighty percent is a reasonable goal because some factors are just outside of an institution’s control,” Assistant Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Mary Keenan said. “The hardest part of retention is you can never know the one reason one student left.”
UMD administration has recently implemented a new framework, which they call “The Four Pros,” to increase student success and retention. The Four Pros, including Profile, Progress, Process and Promise, are initiatives UMD is integrating throughout the school system to make the increase happen and has ultimately led to an all-time high in first year persistence.
However, retention isn’t the only thing UMD is looking to increase. Since Chancellor Lendley Black joined the UMD Community in August of 2010, his main goal was to increase diversity and create an inclusive campus climate for all who learn and work at UMD. He announced a major campus initiative to make that happen.
“Create a positive and inclusive campus climate for all by advancing equity, diversity and social justice,” is Goal Two of Chancellor Black’s Strategic Plan. He implemented this upon taking lead of the university and it’s what drives many initiatives at UMD to improve the campus climate overall.
Susana Pelayo-Woodward, Director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, plays a substantial role in improving the campus climate and making UMD a more inclusive and diversified place. Upon joining the UMD Community in 1992, she has watched the campus climate ultimately improve over the years as students come and go.
“Personally, I have seen lots of changes in how we serve underrepresented students as well as how we recruit students,” Pelayo-Woodward said. “It’s one thing to recruit students, but if you don’t have a welcoming environment where everyone feels that they belong, then how can you retain students?”
Improvements, such as the additions of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Multicultural Center, hosting different volunteer workshops for faculty to increase their own cultural competency and the wide variety of major and minor programs that align with cultural competency and diversity education, have helped to increase that welcoming environment for all on our campus.
The aim of increasing diversity has been a recognized goal of UMD since the enactment of the Commission for Diversity in 1991, that is now called the Commission on Equity, Race and Ethnicity. In November of 2011, UMD received the 2011 Equity and Diversity Outstanding Unit Award from the University of Minnesota’s Office of Equity and Diversity, based at the Twin Cities Campus.
“It is key that the institution thinks [diversity and inclusion] is important and we do,” Pelayo-Woodward said. “To be able to have an Office of Diversity and Inclusion and actually be staffed by a diverse group of people really shows that commitment.”
While the UMD Administration is fully committed to increasing diversity and making an inclusive campus climate, they can’t take all of the credit.
“What’s really awesome and who I want to credit is the students not exclusively, but specifically, [in] the multicultural center,” UMD Student Association President Mike Kenyanya said. “All these different clubs are getting more and more active and kind of creating these communities for multicultural students.”
The Multicultural Center, which opened in 2004 and is home to 14 different Student Clubs and Associations, aims to create a sense of belonging while celebrating diversity and fostering positive relations among all on campus. Their goal is embracing one another’s similarities and differences, which they do through a number of different ways. They provide educational activities, such as showing films, bringing in speakers and hosting discussions, while also catering fun activities, such as food fairs or the Annual Latino-Chicano Fiesta.
“The clubs being more active and putting on more events are, I think, helping students who maybe wouldn’t, unfortunately, feel as welcome throughout the rest of the campus,” Kenyanya said.
With the efforts of UMD Administration, staff and students, diversity is improving. In 2005, 91.8 percent of the graduating class identified as white. In 2010, that number was 90.4 percent. In 2016, that number dropped to 86.7 percent.
Although the dramatic change Pelayo-Woodward would have loved to have seen hasn’t happened yet, she is happy with the improvements she has seen in her two-and-a-half decades at UMD and believes UMD is on the right track.
“The work of equity and diversity is everybody’s work and I don’t think our work could ever be done,” Pelayo-Woodward said. “You can’t lose hope, though. You need to continue looking to the light and moving forward.”
UMD has come a long way since then but still has a way to go. Increasing diversity and making UMD a more inclusive campus is ultimately in the hands of everyone connected to to the school, including the students.
Graphics by Will Madison