WSU Tri-Cities takes pride in report lauding WSU system for minority student achievement

Tri-City Herald file

Administrators at Washington State University Tri-Cities are taking a certain amount of pride in WSU being recognized for advocating and supporting minority students.

The report from The Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based group, noted how WSU has systematically improved its stature when it comes to student diversity. The university system’s minority enrollment has more than tripled since 2001. The minority graduation rate across all WSU campuses is at 60 percent for degrees earned in six years or less, only slightly less than the graduation rate for the general student population.

But at WSU Tri-Cities in Richland, there are five times as many minority students as there were when the Richland campus began accepting freshmen in 2007. Minority students are even more likely to graduate after six years of study than the student body as a whole.

5 times as many minority students at WSU Tri-Cities in Richland as when campus began accepting freshmen in 2007.

Having a smaller overall enrollment than the university system and being situated in the relatively diverse Tri-Cities makes it a bit easier to reach minority students, officials said. However, the accolades show that people are taking notice of all the work.

“Everyone here is very happy about it,” said Jeffrey Dennison, spokesman for the Richland campus. “This is the trajectory we are on.”

Minority students make up more than a quarter of the WSU system’s nearly 29,000 students. Where WSU once rarely pursued or enrolled minority students, there has been a sea change there during the past 10 years, said the report from The Education Trust, which works to reduce achievement gaps between student groups.

“Nowadays, the population of students of color has grown threefold, and there are more than 40 cultural and social student affinity groups,” the report said of WSU. “More impressive, the graduation rate for African American, Latino and Native students has increased by 13 percentage points in the last decade.”

The Education Trust’s report notes that white students still fare better at WSU. In 2013, the average graduation rate for the past three years for white students was still higher than that of minority students. But the minority graduation rate had increased enough that it actually narrowed the gap between the two sets of students by 7.5 percentage points, seventh best on a list of 26 institutions lauded by the organization.

Many universities and colleges around the country either have seen little change in their minority enrollment and graduation rates or actually saw them worsen, the report notes. The difference is the institution taking an interest in improving the situation, the report noted, saying WSU did this by working with faculty, staff and students to recognize problems and ways to better serve minority students.

(WSU’s) graduation rate for African-American, Latino and native students has increased by 13 percentage points in the last decade.

Education Trust report

“Our data make it clear that overall institutional improvement doesn’t always translate into gains for underrepresented students that match those for white students — much less close long-standing gaps,” the report said. “That takes deliberate action from institutions, much like what Washington State has done in the last 25 years.”

The report only speaks of WSU as a whole and doesn’t single out individual campuses for their own progress. Officials noted that large statistical jumps in data on minority academic achievement can be skewed, as the Richland campus has about 1,600 students, one third of them identifying as a minority.

Dennison said administrators, faculty and students at WSU Tri-Cities are committed to fostering diversity on the campus. A lot of that ties into the university’s ongoing efforts to improve student life, from fostering student organizations, clubs and sports to cultural events.

But there’s also specific help for minority students, such as the TRiO program, which provides services for first-generation college students and others facing challenges. Student mentoring has also taken a large role at the university, such as through the Million Women Mentors program, which recently gave the campus an award for its efforts.

Officials said there’s always room for improvement, but WSU, and the Richland campus in particular, is headed in the right direction.

“We’re representative of our community,” Dennison said.