Higher education measures student success by a number of metrics, beginning in the pre-enrollment phase, when applications are accepted or declined. Metrics reflecting academic performance (grades, grade point averages, year-to-year persistence) are arguably the most critical, since in most cases they determine the ultimate outcome of the student’s college career—graduation.
In achieving its strategic vision of serving “the greater good” and graduating students who are “constructive agents of positive change,”6 RIT is resolute in its commitment to recruit, retain, and graduate a student population that mirrors the demographics of the U.S. population at large and that is fully prepared for informed participation in a diverse civil society.
The two Broad Initiatives of Pillar II and their supporting action steps derive from the following vision that was crafted by the members of this working group.
RIT will be the university of choice for AALANA students seeking a culturally engaging campus environment and an education fully supportive of their academic and personal success.
It is important to note that these initiatives and action steps are not new to RIT: they restate and extend a number of critical goals contained in the current strategic plan, Greatness Through Difference: 2018-2025.
Broad Initiative I:
Increasing the percentage of AALANA first year undergraduate and graduate students.
Goal 2 of the RIT Strategic Plan 2018-2025, calls for RIT to “Continue to diversify the undergraduate student population by gender, race [emphasis added], and nationality.” Initiative I and its action steps could be read as a re-focusing of this goal.
The specific goal of Initiative I is to examine the current RIT Strategic Plan goal for the percentage of AALANA first year undergraduate students with specific emphasis on increasing the percentage of Black students (6.6% in Fall 2020).
The following actions are recommended to help in achieving the goal in the Strategic Plan.
Action Step I.1:
Increase specific, accountable pathway programs for AALANA students that leverages the best work of the RIT K-12 University Center and the Multicultural Center for Academic Success (MCAS) and other cohort programs, building additional partnerships with strategically selected high schools.
The goal of these partnerships will be to establish early relationships between prospective undergraduate and graduate students and RIT. Students should have the opportunity to interact with RIT faculty, to visit the RIT campus multiple times during their high school years, including initiatives that are already taking place such as the Native Outreach Day and at least one overnight visit, and to be guided by RIT personnel in the application process. Among the partners to be considered are the Milton Hershey School, additional Uncommon charter high schools, and the Young Women’s College Prep Charter School.
Supporting Action Step I.1.a: Form a committee of Admissions and Financial Aid staff, faculty, and students to consider questions like the following:
For schools with high numbers of AALANA graduates, can the university determine whether sufficient college application guidance is offered, and if it is not, can RIT provide it?
Since we know that students who visit campus are more likely to attend RIT than those who do not, can the university fund such visits? Could RIT bring a number of these students to campus for a night or two and provide full funding?
Are there ways to better include the Multicultural Center for Academic Success (MCAS) in the pre-enrollment process?
Is RIT using race as a significant criterion in admissions decisions? (“Postsecondary institutions may develop admissions procedures designed to achieve diversity, including procedures that involve admissions preferences for certain groups of students.”)
Action Step I.2:
Create a cross-divisional Enrollment Diversity Advisory Team (staff, faculty and students) charged with planning, communicating, supporting and implementing practices to increase AALANA applications, visitors, enrollments and graduates.
Action Step I.3:
Identify, market, and award untapped scholarships—from foundations, corporations, friends and alumni.
Broad Initiative II:
Improve persistence and graduation rates among AALANA students and reduce disparities between AALANA and non-AALANA students.
The RIT Strategic Plan, 2018 – 2025, calls for the following in goals 3 and 21:
Goal 3: “Improve graduation rates across all demographics.”
Goal 21: “Establish new and strengthen existing community partnerships with schools and cultural institutions.”
No changes are recommended in the current strategic plan goals; however, Initiative II contains specific strategies in support of these goals.
Actions for Initiative II focus on developing new and improving existing practices, programs, and relationships to enhance the academic performance and personal development of AALANA students.
Action Step II.1:
Implement initiatives that increase persistence and retention among AALANA students.
Supporting Action Step II.1.a: Expand the RIT Steering Committee for Student Success’s charge to explicitly include the contributors/barriers to AALANA student success.
Supporting Action Step II.1.b: Conduct a growth and funding study of Division of Diversity and Inclusion and other AALANA graduate and undergraduate student support programs (Native American Future Stewards Program, etc.), including those in the academic colleges. Prioritize funding to expand initiatives that improve AALANA student success. A preliminary analysis of students affiliated with DDI programs shows positive indicators of student success.
Supporting Action Step II.1.c: Increase the number and proportion of AALANA students participating in RIT’s Honors Program.
Action Step II.2:
Identify and deploy new ways to strengthen AALANA students’ sense of belonging to RIT.
The retention literature explains that some Black and Latinx students face unique adjustment challenges upon entry to predominately white institutions. These challenges can include such stressors as “lack of knowledge about the college process, institutional racism, poor health
and energy, social isolation, and family and financial problems.”9 Students also report the importance of seeing “themselves reflected in the faculty and curriculum to which they are exposed to create a sense of belongingness and inclusiveness.”10 Microaggressions from both students and professors, racial stress, racial trauma, racial battle fatigue and stereotype threat are are among other adjustment challenges that may cause psychological and physiological stress that threatens the well-being of the student and their sense of belonging to the institution. These challenges will be a part of the charge of the cross-division committee identified in Step II.1.a. In addition, the literature on the AALANA collegiate experience provides strong support for the following supporting actions:
Supporting Action Step II.2.a: Select and administer a nationally-normed, student and employee climate survey that focuses on race (see Pillar III, Broad Initiative III).
Supporting Action Step II.2.b: Provide resources that educate faculty and staff to more effectively support AALANA students. Include racial identity development, history of racism in the US and in higher education, and anti-racism approaches.
This supporting action will include resources on classroom practices and interactional strategies that enhance the experience of inclusion among underrepresented students.
Supporting Action Step II.2.c: Working with appropriate governance committees, evaluate the extent to which RIT’s curricular offerings appropriately reflect the commitments and priorities of RIT with regard to diversity and inclusion.
This supporting action should result in recommendations to close curricular gaps in this area, including, for example, a Black studies major and new immersions or minors, and the evaluation of proposals for a common course or intellectual experience around race and racial justice. AALANA students will be included in these evaluations.
Supporting Action Step II.2.d: Enhance the research and education climate by proposing a Center on Race and Justice that addresses issues important to Rochester and this region and make funding a development priority.
Supporting Action Step II.2.e: Make the establishment of Endowed Chair positions for disciplines related to African American, Latinx and Native American studies a development priority.