The acceptance and enrollment of minority graduate students has increased by six percent from last year to this year, and by 20 percent since 1997. This translates to an increase of 46 underrepresented minority students over the last three years, from 231 to 277.
By all accounts, there is no single reason for the rise in the matriculation of minority students.
“Sometimes I feel like it’s just dumb luck,” said Walter Cohen, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School.
The statistics reflect the rise in enrollment of African-American, Native American and Latino students who are either American citizens or permanent residents, and the Graduate School does not include the Johnson Graduate School of Management, the College of Veterinary Medicine, the Law School or the Medical College in New York City.
According to Cohen, the University’s percentage of minority acceptance has moved from below average to “around the middle of the list” of the “Ivy plus” group of schools with which it competes.
That group includes all of the Ivy League schools, except for Dartmouth, as well as the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago.
Among the departments that have experienced the most success with recruiting minorities over the past several years is the English department.
“We are actively recruiting minority students,” said Prof. Dorothy Mermin, English, the director of graduate studies in the English department.
“We started many years ago, when other [universities] weren’t very concerned about [recruiting],” Mermin said.
Cohen agreed that the Graduate School conducts “aggressive recruiting” of underrepresented minorities, citing the benefits that ethnic diversity brings to the University.
“It would be a shame if this society were stratified professionally and socially along racial lines. We have a mission to work against that tendency,” Cohen said.
Terry Plater, associate dean for academic affairs in the Graduate School, agreed, saying, “There are a lot of faculty who just realize that this is the right thing to do to help their own fields broaden intellectual diversity.”
There are 94 graduate fields, and the Graduate School does not dictate any specific numbers for minority acceptance. Each particular field has final say over who is accepted into their graduate program.
On the other hand, once a student has been accepted into a graduate program, the school tries to make funds available to the minority students it accepts in both the state and endowed schools.
There are “targeted programs and other funds which we try to make available” to minority students, Cohen said.
“For our state schools, we have money for minority students that is labeled as such, from State University of New York,” Plater said.
One of the newer methods the Graduate School is using to recruit minority students is a new policy of “cultivating relationships” with individual universities.
“We’re trying to establish faculty to faculty relationships between schools to increase our access,” Cohen said.
Plater is one of the people most involved in this approach to minority recruitment, as well as many other aspects of minority recruitment.
“We are choosing to go to fewer [recruitment] fairs,” Plater said. Instead the Graduate School is attempting an “approach using direct contact,” she said.
According to Mermin, it is difficult to form relationships with individual faculty and departments of other universities that yield significant results.
“In reality, that’s not how it works,” she said.
“You just have to get a reputation as a school that is a nice place to be a grad student and hope the word is out there,” Mermin said.
Though minority enrollment has increased over the last six years, “you could still question whether the number is as high as you would like,” Cohen said.
Total enrollment in the Graduate School dropped from a high of 4500 graduate students to 3900 graduates in 1997. That figure climbed to 4100 graduates this year.
“Applications have fallen even though matriculation for the last two years has been the best ever,” Cohen said.
“Applications are falling as a national trend,” he added. “The job market for people with bachelor degrees is very strong.”
Cohen admitted that the drop in graduate school admissions might affect the amount of qualified applications the University receives, minority or otherwise.
“Eventually, we may not even be able to maintain our [enrollment numbers],” Cohen said.
“That’s why there are different strategies that we have adopted to try to overcome that,” he concluded.
Archived article by Maggie Frank