November 6, 2007

Diversity Programs Study Used to Improve Cornell

Print More

Although President David Skorton focused on the success of Cornell’s Capital Campaign in his State of the University Address, given Trustee/Council Weekend, he also focused on another pertinent issue — diversity at Cornell.
Skorton addressed a recent study, funded by the Teagle Foundation, on the effectiveness of diversity programs at Cornell and other universities. Teagle is a philanthropic foundation that provides grants for research on student programs.
The study took place from January 2005 to June 2006 and included participants from Colgate University, Hobart and William Smiths Colleges, Hamilton College and Wells College, all located in upstate New York. Across these campuses, the study aimed to determine what programs help or hazard minority students, with the hope that the overall results could be applied to improve programs at both Cornell and at each respective university.
David Harris, vice provost of social sciences, headed the Cornell team that led the study. The working group included Raymond Dalton, executive director of the Office of Minority Educational Affairs; Marin Clarkberg, senior research associate at Institutional Research and Planning; Jorge Lee ’08; Christian Roman ’06 and Pauline Yi ’06. Each college that participated in the study had its own working group that reflected that of Cornell’s.
The study resulted in a report titled “Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in College Completion and Achievement: What Works and Why.” The report focused on “what colleges and universities can do to ensure that among the students they admit, achievement and graduation rates are comparable across racial and ethnic groups.”
Among racial disparities noted in the study were disparities between graduation rates over a period of six years and GPA. One such statistic reported, “[Of] students who entered 28 selective schools in 1989, the six-year graduation was 96 percent for Asian Americans, 94 percent for whites, 90 percent for Latinos and 79 percent for African Americans.” Other factors were also taken into account, such as overall satisfaction with the college experience.
The process of the study consisted of meetings and presentations at each of the universities in order to determine which programs could potentially be the most successful.
In order to make this determination, the working group reviewed all relevant literature pertaining to race and achievement in higher education. After creating literature reviews, the five participating schools critically examined the list of programs in respect to this research.
“I thought that it was a great experience meeting people at other universities and talking about problems that would arise at any institution,” Dalton said. “We had these sessions at each campus and we had to come prepared.”
There were also guest experts who presented at each of the meetings, Dalton said.
The study outlines 14 different programs, among them the Equity Scorecard and Breaking Bread. Harris, who authored the paper and was the overall organizer of the study, told the Chronicle that he found these two programs to be especially promising.
The Equity Scorecard, developed at the University of Southern California, is a program in which current data on different student groups is compared with earlier data in order to assess “students’ success and campus climate.” The scorecard uses four different areas to assess this information; “access,” “excellence,” “retention” and “institutional receptivity”, which was described as composition of the staff, faculty, and community and the number and type of bias incidents reported.
The Breaking Bread Program, which began at Colgate University in 2004, seeks to bring together different student organizations by providing funding for dinners. The dinner would require that each student group plan the menu together, shop together, prepare the meal and dine together. By the end of the dinner, the groups would come up with a collaborative program.
One important aspect of the study is that it serves as a jump-off point to create greater discussion across campus.
“One of the things we’re interested in is how to talk about the data, using Cornell’s data, measuring and reporting,” Clarkberg said. “We have a lot of data … It’s how do you look at the data and present it to the Cornell community; how do you deal with criticism? It’s not so much collecting new data — I think we’re still in the middle of it.”
The inclusion of student perspective was an important aspect of the study. Thus, each working group was allowed to have students participate.
Lee, one of the students in Cornell’s working group, served as a research assistant.
“I think it’s great that we were able to put together a list of programs that other schools facing this gap can implement,” Lee said. “I do believe, however, that each school needs to take into consideration the composition of its student body and choose programs accordingly.”
Some of the programs recommended by the study already exist at Cornell and several that do not are now being implemented. The University Diversity Council was formed after the study was released, one of the tangible results of the study, Lee said.
Though Cornell seeks to implement successful programs, there are some students who are skeptical.
“I think that people aren’t open to reaching out and trying different things for fear of going against this unspoken stigma,” Jasen Bell ’09, said. “I feel that sometimes it’s bureaucracy because the administration wants to be on record as saying ‘we have diversity and we are doing this.’ The good thing about it is that at least if they’re doing it as part of the bureaucracy, at least it’s getting done.”