Although at the University of Michigan diversity is espoused widely as one of the principles with which the administration is most concerned, the lived experiences of many students on campus tell otherwise. In my own case, I am one of very few Black students on campus. At an institution of over 40,000 students, I more often than not find myself as one of only a handful of Black students in my classes. I am able to see firsthand in my classes the racial disparity in enrollment, both in small seminars and large lecture halls. My racial demographic made up only 4.6 percent of the University’s enrollment in Fall 2014, a steady decline over the years from the 7.6 percent of Black students that were enrolled in 2005. While Asian students at 13.2 percent of the University population have not been underrepresented, other minority groups have been with Native American and Hawaiian students combined making up less than 0.5% of the University population in 2014, and Hispanic/Latino students comprising only around 5% (University of Michigan Office of the Registrar).
With these figures in mind, it becomes evident that, although the administration states the value of students’ diverse backgrounds, there is a disconnect between the concept of diversity and its implementation. Through my research on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) at the National Forum, I have learned that increased diversity on college campuses, for white students in particular, allows for greater racial awareness, an enhanced critical consciousness, and a reduction in resistance to examining oppression (Closson and Henry, 2008). It is not too farfetched to believe that these effects are similar among students of minority groups. In the same vein, studies have found that racial diversity has positive effects on students’ complex and critical thinking, academic self-confidence, and social agency, as well as the importance that they place on taking action in society (Antonio et al., 2004; Laird, 2005). In this case, it seems that the lack of diversity on the University of Michigan’s campus may be depriving its students of critical skills and experiences that should be developed during the college years.
In light of the campus’s lack of racial diversity, President Schlissel has outlined an action plan for the future, which includes the development of campus-wide Strategic Plans for Diversity, diversity initiatives in hiring procedures, and most importantly, partnerships with K-12 schools that serve underrepresented populations (Iseler, 2015). Early recruitment is especially important because of the impact that it will have on students’ college preparedness and awareness of the options that the University has to offer to them. While these steps are definitely ones that need to be taken, I would additionally emphasize the importance of support groups to promote retention of those who may feel lost on a campus on which they feel marginalized. It is possible that with the added input of students in these new diversity initiatives, the University will be able to adjust its policies and become a place where all students can feel welcome and valued.
Antonio, A. L., Chang, M. J., Hakuta, K., Kenny, D. A., Levin, S., & Milem, J. F. (2004). Effects of racial diversity on complex thinking in college students. Psychological Science, 15(8), 507-510. doi: 10.1111/j.0956-7976.2004.00710.x
Closson, R. B., & Henry, W. J. (2008). The social adjustment of undergraduate White students in the minority on an historically Black college campus. Journal of College Student Development, 49(6), 517-534. doi: 10.1353/csd.0.0036
Iseler, J. (2015, Feb. 16). President Schlissel kicks off campuswide effort to improve diversity. The University Record. Retrieved from https://record.umich.edu/articles/president-schlissel-kicks-campuswide-effort-improve-diversity
Laird, T. F. N. (2005). College students’ experiences with diversity and their effects on academic self-confidence, social agency, and disposition toward critical thinking. Research in Higher Education, 46(4), 365-387. doi: 10.1007/s11162-005-2966-1
University of Michigan Office of the Registrar. (2014). Ten year enrollment by ethnicity [Data file]. Retrieved from http://ro.umich.edu/enrollment/ethnicity.php
By: Jeremiah Thompson
I recently had the opportunity to listen to a panel of experts discuss potential ideas to aide low-income students attending (or aspiring to attend) higher education institutions.
Susan Dynarski, a professor with the Ford School of Public Policy and the School of Education, proposed simplifying the FAFSA. She cited studies showing that paperwork, or in this case an online application, can often be a deterrent for low-income families to receiving financial aid or realizing their eligibility for those programs.
Kevin Stange, a professor with the Ford School of Public Policy, talked about “choice architecture” and that sometimes consumers, or students, do not make the best choices when offered many options. He referenced Guttman Community College, part of the CUNY system in New York. Guttman has developed a plan that limits the choices of its students – there are a limited number of majors, the core courses are the same for everyone, students must be fulltime their first year, and there are a number of other designs that limit the ‘choices’ that students get to make. Guttman graduated its inaugural class and tentatively shows a higher graduation and retention rate than the CUNY system as a whole. The differences are not dramatic, but enough to warrant continued attention and study.
Ajita Talwalker Menon, Senior Policy Advisor for Higher Education with the White House, discussed the Obama Administration’s efforts, particularly the recent Gainful Employment Rules. Gainful Employment is targeted at short vocational programs, many that are run by for-profit colleges. Gainful Employment, while meeting much resistance from the for-profit sector, would cut Title IV funding for schools whose students cannot pay back their loans at a certain threshold – i.e., if a student is using more than 12% of her disposable income, then that student has not reached ‘Gainful Employment’ standards. If enough students at one institution fail to meet these standards, then the Title IV funding is cut.
Libby Nelson, an Education Report with Vox Media, talked about the regressive nature of tax credits for higher education. She also argued that tax credits should be far more predictable and refundable. If families had a better idea of how much their credit might be, or if they could receive a refund sooner than in the current system, families could better plan for their educational expenses.
I found particularly interesting the idea of simplifying the FAFSA. I previously worked with many low-income families and can attest, anecdotally, that paperwork often is a barrier for these groups. I worked through the FAFSA with many families who found the form intimidating and were grateful to have someone aid them through that process. These same families often do not realize how much financial aid may potentially be available to them. Many students think that college is too expensive and out of reach – if it were easier to get information to families, they might be able to make more informed decisions and sooner.
That said, for students considering colleges with more selective admissions, many colleges (including the University of Michigan) require the much more onerous CSS Profile. This application asks for significantly more information than the FAFSA, and in my experience, this can also be a barrier, more so than the FAFSA.
Would colleges be willing to forego the CSS Profile or to simplify the form, for low-income families at a certain threshold? Unfortunately, our session did not allow for many questions, but I’m sure Professor Dynarski has some thoughts about the CSS Profile as well.
Last weekend, I attended the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association in Chicago. As a first time AERA participant, I have to admit I was a bit overwhelmed—as I expected—by the number of people who descended on the River North area of town to share and learn from the latest educational research. It was hard to tell whether it was more difficult to navigate criss-crossing the Chicago River or the crowd of 14,000 people.
My National Forum colleague, Esmeralda Hernandez, joined me for an early morning presentation on our work examining the influence of guidance counselors on the college-going aspirations of Latin@ students. Based on data from the High School Longitudinal Survey, we found that given the many job responsibilities of counselors, ranging from course and standardized test scheduling to behavioral health issues faced by students, college advising can often get pushed too far down the priority list. This finding holds especially true in schools where counselors manage case loads of 400 or even hundreds more students. Based on the analyses Esmeralda and I conducted, Latin@ high school students had odds 22% higher than those of their White peers of expecting to attend a four-year postsecondary institution. Further, talking with a counselor about college and making educational plans to pursue a college preparatory curriculum in high school significantly increased the odds Latin@ students expected to attend a four-year institution, compared to not expecting to pursue any college. Unfortunately, lack of access to effective counseling and lack of social capital in navigating the admissions and financial aid processes impedes many aspiring Latin@ students.
Guidance counselors are well positioned to serve as what Ricardo Stanton-Salazar has termed institutional empowerment agents. Rather than act as gatekeepers who determine who is and who is not meant for college, counselors who seek to empower students act against the self-perpetuating cycle of socioeconomic inequality in the United States. Schools that charge even one counselor with an exclusive focus on college advising may be better positioned to empower students to aspire to a college degree and prepare for success in and through college.
Apart from the chance to share research, I appreciated the opportunity to learn from some of the most respected higher education scholars. During a “fireside chat” on pursuing social justice through higher education research, a group of scholars at varying stages of their careers offered thoughts to a room largely filled with graduate students. Assistant Professor Michelle Espino of the University of Maryland spoke of the importance of making oneself vulnerable to teach, research, write, and advocate for change.
Walter Allen, Distinguished Professor at UCLA, spoke of ways his scholarship on the connections between race, identity, and access to essential resources—including education—has evolved over the trajectory of his career. In Dr. Allen’s words, “Educational access is the essential glue of our society.”
Professor Mitch Chang, also of UCLA, turned attention on the classroom by making the case for pedagogy that both disrupts long-held norms and imagines more inclusive learning environments and modes of learning.
Following Dr. Chang, Associate Professor Noah D. Drezner of Teachers College, Columbia University made the case that “we have to live the values we talk about in class in our admissions processes.” To make matters of access to higher education only theoretical neglects the real impact of exclusionary and marginalizing admissions practices that perpetuate cycles of privilege and disadvantage too long far too familiar in the field and society more broadly.
Despite the overwhelming nature of AERA, I came away with some new relationships and some stronger relationships previously forged. For the year ahead, however, I will continue to consider how to be more vulnerable in my work, how to bring greater imagination to my thoughts about teaching and learning, and how to push for practices that reflect the public good mission higher education must serve.
Note: To track the events and conversations around AERA, look to the #AERA15 feed on Twitter.
On November 25th 2011, an 18-year-old high school student from Mission, Texas, Joaquin Luna Jr., took his own life. Joaquin was brought to the United States from Mexico by his parents when he was a 6-month old infant. He had dreamed of becoming the first in his family to attend college, but after realizing that his immigration status would probably prevent him from being able to attend college, he gave up on life. His death sparked controversy and debate as well as a renewed effort by immigrants’ rights groups, community leaders, and experts in the fields of psychology to draw attention to the unique plight of the undocumented youth who call the United States of America home.
While the case of Joaquin is a tragic and extreme one, similar stories of students who were brought to the U.S. without authorization as children experiencing hopelessness and despair as a result of their status are surfacing in growing numbers across the country. There are today an estimated 2.1 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States. These young people face a particularly untenable legal circumstance, for which there are well-documented complex mental and psychological consequences. As many experts have observed, these students go through particularly confusing and contradictory experiences related to their feelings of belonging and rejection as they enter critical transitions from childhood to adolescence and adulthood. These students have a constitutionally guaranteed right to K-12 but cannot legally work to support themselves, vote, receive federal financial aid, nor drive in most states. They also have to endure the constant fear of being deported to their countries of birth, countries that many of these young people no longer remember.
Teachers, other school officials and often their parents tell these students that if they work hard in school, they can go to college. But given the legal limitations associated with their status, these words of encouragement can become a painful mistruth. Undocumented students are often blindsided by the implications of their status once they are already close to completing high school. The result of these crushing realizations is often devastating. As their peers begin the process of moving through important rites of passage—taking their first jobs, getting their driver’s licenses, and applying to college—their inability to join them sets them on a path of discovery which exposes them to a painfully exhaustive list of the barriers to employment and higher education. In addition to what one expert called “the onset of multiple exclusions” their path of discovery often induces feelings of fear, anxiety, uncertainty and guilt.
Due to a general lack of access to comprehensive counseling and psychological service, these negative emotions are often internalized by these youngsters and later manifest themselves in various ways that impact their daily lives. Indeed many of the factors that have been found to negatively impact immigrant’ mental health include pre- and post-migration traumas, acculturative stress, anxiety related to job-insecurity and the strains of low-wage work and experiences and perceptions of discrimination. Among undocumented immigrants, their status creates an additional layer of stress related to a lack of access to vital resources and constant fear. Such fears often lead them not to seek out the few affordable resources that are available to them.
Studies have consistently shown that undocumented students struggle with disproportionately high rates of stress, anxiety and depression. Studies have also shown that undocumented youth tend to begin experiencing the symptoms and consequences of these issues at a young age. The bulk of the research in this field consistently finds that these youngsters are particularly vulnerable to poor mental health outcomes. Therefore, any effort to combat these poor outcomes would necessitate a process of providing undocumented immigrants living in the United States with broader access to comprehensive mental health information and services. It will also necessitate efforts by those who support these youngsters (their family, churches, community organizations and colleges and universities) to provide them access to spaces where they feel safe. The creation and expansion of safe spaces, resources and a commitment to achieving policy changes that address the root causes of the inequalities, injustices and prejudices these students face are all necessary.
Gonzales, R., C. Suárez-Orozco & M. Dedios-Sanguineti. No Place to Belong: Contextualizing Concepts of Mental Health Among Undocumented Immigrant Youth in the United States. July 12, 2013.
2. Fortuna, L., M. Porche. Clinical Issues and Challenges in Treating Undocumented Immigrants. Psychiatric Times. August 15, 2013.
Last week, I had the opportunity to present alongside valued colleagues from the University of California Berkeley and Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) during the annual conference of NASPA – Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education. Our presentation, “Institutionalizing Support for Undocumented Student Success” provided national context for the educational imperative colleges and universities face to support all of their students, regardless of citizenship or residency status, with holistic support to achieve their full potential.
We presented three points to bear in mind as institutions work to meet their undocumented students’ needs:
Undocumented student access and support is a national issue addressed in local and individual ways
Student activism can spark campus movements, but student affairs professionals and faculty play critical roles institutionalizing commitment to student services
Tuition equity and financial aid eligibility are important first steps, but ongoing support empowers students to navigate the college experience
NEIU, a 100% commuter student campus on the Northwest side of Chicago, serves more than 10,000 students. More than half of NEIU’s students attend part-time, and the average student is 28 years old. The Undocumented Students Project has convened faculty and staff to oversee program activities and assess policies and processes affecting undocumented students. The Project has also developed a comprehensive Undocumented Student Resource Guide, Ally program, and website. To meet the needs of Chicagoland undocumented students, NEIU leverages both on-campus leadership and community-based partnerships.
UC Berkeley ranks among the most prestigious research institutions in the country. Although Berkeley is renowned for its history of on-campus student activism, the needs of undocumented students have gained the institution’s attention primarily in recent years. The Undocumented Student Program there, however, has quickly established itself as a model for holistic student services. The Program seeks to meet both the academic and overall well-being needs of students. To meet those needs, the Program engages faculty and staff campus-wide, along with partners beyond the campus. This engagement enables Berkeley to provide an experience that is more inclusive and supportive in order to empower students.
NEIU and UC Berkeley are institutions with different missions, meeting those missions in different ways. What unites them in this case is a common commitment to identifying and bringing to bear a comprehensive set of on- and off-campus resources to support students who are undocumented in a comprehensive manner that recognizes the right of everyone to learn and achieve. I hope presentation attendees came away with tangible steps they can take to deepen their own institutions’ commitments to their enrolled undocumented students. Doing so affirms the mission of higher education to empower students and graduates and the shared value in the field of meeting the particular needs of all students to fulfill their empowered potential.
Recently a new team member joined the National Forum. Ilana Israel will be our new Admin! She is a native of Ann Arbor, MI. Ilana graduated from Elon University in NC with a Bachelor’s degree in Strategic Communications. Her interests include working with non-profit organizations, furthering her education and advocating for social justice and equality. She enjoys traveling, photography, spending time with friends, following sports and hanging out with her two pets, Willie her horse and Rio her dog. Welcome to the team, Ilana, we all look forward to working with you!
The National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good has hosted four webinars through the uLEAD Network, each addressing a different aspect of postsecondary access and support for immigrant and undocumented students. These webinars are an important part of our outreach, education, and advocacy efforts: they allow a national audience to learn from our expert colleagues at no cost for the audience and minimal cost for us.
There are many ways to run a webinar, and the guide below should help you decide what options are right for your organization, your audience, and your budget.
Find your team
A webinar is a medium for education and communication, and the team you assemble will define what, how, and to whom you intend to communicate. Start thinking about who might fill these important roles.
Content and format
Of course, the most important content consideration is your subject matter. This will drive the entire planning process, from inviting presenters to creating promotional materials to making technical decisions. Your subject matter (and the subtopics to be addressed by each presenter) should guide your decisions on each of the following matters.
Sample webinar formats
Each section of the presentations should connect to the overarching subject in a natural way—that is, audience members should understand why each topic is being discussed in the context of this webinar. However, keep in mind that your presenters have expertise and experience that you may not have considered when you started planning. Stay open to changes and adjustments throughout the planning process.
As you make technical decisions, you will likely be guided by three main factors: your goals, your budget, and the technical expertise available to you. The first factor will shape how you use the available technology, while the second and third factors will provide constraints to direct you toward the appropriate technical options for your organization.
You want to reach your intended audience, and it’s important to consider accessibility so that the audience can fully benefit from your presenters’ knowledge and experience. Make sure to be clear in your promotional materials and/or registration form that these options are available.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and you should consider additional practices such as those recommended in the Association of Research Libraries’ Web Accessibility Toolkit. You should also consult with any organizations or offices available to you that may have more information or suggestions. We continue to learn new ways we can make our own webinars more accessible.
This timeline is not comprehensive, and yours may vary. However, it should give you a rough sense of the important steps along the way, as well as the pacing of the planning process.
During the webinar
On the day of the webinar, our planning team and support crew set up in a “command center,” which should be a quiet area with reliable internet access and space for several computer users (a conference room works well). Depending on your platform, format, and technical needs, your support crew may vary, but we have someone in each of the following roles.
A webinar can be a great (and cost-effective) way to reach a national audience and collaborate with partners around the country or across the world. With sufficient planning, good communication, and a clear sense of purpose, this can be an important addition to the services and educational tools you already provide. Make the most of it, and good luck!
Months of planning came together this past Tuesday with the National Forum’s webinar on the subject of Holistic Support for Undocumented Students in a Rapidly Changing Policy Environment. The webinar was a collaboration between the National Forum and several cosponsor organizations: the National Center for Institutional Diversity, the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education (CCCIE), and UC Berkeley’s Undocumented Student Program (USP). We were fortunate to benefit from the knowledge and experience of Teresita Wisell from CCCIE, Maureen Fitzpatrick from City Colleges of Chicago, Ruben Canedo from USP, and current Berkeley senior Jesus Mendoza.
The presentations were fantastic, but I’m not going to spend much time talking about them because soon you’ll be able to watch them for yourself on the uLEAD Network website—and if you want to learn about strategies for providing undocumented college students with the best support possible (as an individual, office, or institution), I highly recommend you do so.
Instead, I want to talk about the conversation that emerged among our listeners. When we started planning our webinars this fall, we debated whether to include a chat box our listeners could use. Would people use it? Would it distract from the presenters? Was there a better way to gather questions to ask our presenters during the Q&A?
Despite our concerns, it proved to be a perfect complement to the information provided by our presenters. The webinar drew listeners from diverse institutions across the country—the most common locations included California, Illinois, Texas, Minnesota, New York, Washington, and Michigan. Having a way to communicate with other listeners allowed for a true conversation as people answered each other’s questions, shared resources, and commented on how they’ve experienced the topics being discussed by the presenters. At many colleges, there may not be a formal support system for undocumented students, and staff at such colleges were able to compare notes with those working in different institutional environments. People could draw new ideas from work being done across the country, and they could connect with colleagues close to home—listeners from North Carolina even exchanged contact information to start a working group.
When we plan events, we pay attention to the big questions, and rightly so. But last week’s webinar was a reminder that small changes in structure can have a significant effect. Including a chat box seemed like a very minor question. We wondered if it would be superfluous or distracting; in the end, it served to supplement and reinforce our presenters’ knowledge and create a deeper experience. As we think about future events, we can look for ways to support similar connection, collaboration, and conversation.
Seeing my older sister attend Clark Atlanta University gave me an early impression of Minority Serving Institutions as higher education institutions dedicated to holistic formation for students of color. At CAU my stepsister developed as an athlete, experimented with different majors, grew as a leader, and explored other aspects of her identity, particularly gender. The strong foundation she built at CAU reverberates through her life now as a collegiate tennis coach and mentor for students. Her experiences at a Historically Black University expanded my early conceptions of what college meant, including academic, personal, and spiritual growth.
Those themes flowed through the presentations at the Minority Serving Institutions Symposium. Our opening presenters, Jeremiah Thompson and Dr. Jaime Chahin, highlighted how MSIs have a distinctive approach to the personal formation of students. Sharing his experiences attending predominantly White institutions, Mr. Thompson reminded us of the unwelcoming and racist messages Native American students still encounter. At Tribal Colleges, Native American students can engage a course of study in an environment dedicated to enriching their cultural knowledge and identity. The educational environments at MSIs, steeped in a cultural heritage and curiosity, encourage students of color to grew in their various identities. Faculty and campus administrators of color, uniquely positioned and motivated to promote student success, foster this process.
Dr. Chahin provided a fascinating case study of how intentional leadership transformed Texas Status University into a thriving Hispanic Serving Institution. Through incentives for faculty to create culturally aligned courses and promoting student voice to suggest new activities, Texas State grew into a culturally defined institution. I resonated with Dr. Chahin’s description of the mission of HIS, particularly Texas State, to facilitate and encourage students in building a solid foundation to go forth to the workforce or graduate school with a firm sense of their identity.
Transforming institutions to truly serve students of color requires leadership to motivate actors at different levels to change curriculum, mission, and the environment. Many of the research papers highlighted the challenges of creating and maintaining MSIs. Access to resources, accreditation guidelines, and changes in enrollment at MSIs complicate the ability of institutional actors to enrich and maintain the mission of serving students of color. Our closing session with Dr. JoAnn Canales demonstrated how an intentional focus on holistic development and cultural heritage promoted student growth and success. The symposium provided an opportunity to build a community of research and practice around Minority Serving Institutions. These conversations should continue to investigate the ways MSIs foster cultural wealth at the organizational level and envision strategies to enrich and support these institutions.
“At the core of our work is a desire to make a difference in our society through impacting the way higher education responds to its role to serve the public good.” - Betty Overton, Director for the National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good
The National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good and the National Center for Institutional Diversity—both located at the University of Michigan—have agreed to a new level of partnership to include strategic collaboration, joint sponsorship of events and programs, and the development of funding proposals to support work shared between the two organizations. This partnership will largely focus on the areas of higher education access and success for immigrant and undocumented students, and leadership for diversity in higher education.
Since its founding in 2000, the National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good has worked to demonstrate the ways in which higher education serves a greater public role. It has recently focused some of its work on higher education’s responds to supporting underserved and minority groups, and the institutions that serve them. Led by its Director, Professor Betty Overton, the National Forum works to encourage people to frame college education as not only an access point for a career, but as a resource for the greater good of society.
Historically, the University of Michigan has distinguished itself as a pioneer in diversity. This commitment by the University to affirm the central value and undeniable importance of institutional diversity to the mission of all colleges and universities was the seed in creating the National Center for Institutional Diversity (NCID). Since its establishment in 2006, NCID has centered its priorities on offering empirical context for diversity efforts, linking diversity to measures of meaningful participation, and acknowledging the discourse that surrounds higher education and using it as a principal means through which diversity can be understood, interpreted, and advanced.
With the 2013 appointment of NCID’s current Director, Professor John Burkhardt, the center has been successful in building partnerships across the UM campus and has started to establish a network of scholars in other institutions who are studying diversity issues. They have begun to decentralize the diversity agenda by engaging other schools and colleges, and promoting innovation across the university. The NCID strategic plan emphasizes leadership development, national partnerships, and communications, and acts as a mechanism used to reassert the importance of diversity in the mission of higher education. As such, the recent partnership with the National Forum is an essential stride in the journey to further the diversity narrative.
One of the first steps taken in advancing the shared work will be the expansion of the uLEAD network, a web based utility that provides up-to-date information about issues affecting undocumented students in higher education. The uLEAD network was established in 2012 through a grant from the Ford Foundation. In addition to the expansion of uLead, the National Forum and NCID staff will collaborate in supporting several leadership for diversity efforts, including programs with the American Council on Education, the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, and the Kellogg Fellows Leadership Alliance.
This partnership will advance the realization of goals long held by each of the two groups. The National Forum will be providing support and technical assistance to NCID’s work in leadership development, contributing research from its evaluation of related programming in minority serving institutions and building on institutional case studies. Together, the National Forum and NCID will work to support a communication effort geared toward higher education leaders who are pursuing commitments to diversity and inclusion.