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MHEC President on Diversity

Presentation to the Maryland Higher Education Commission
24 April 2001

One Institution’s Progress Towards the
State Plan Goal of Admitting and
Graduating a Student Population that
Reflects the Racial, Ethnic and
Gender Diversity of the State

Janet Dudley-Eshbach, President
Salisbury University

(April 2001)

I would like to begin by thanking the Maryland Higher Education Commission for its leadership in promoting education issues for our state and for its support for higher education.

I also wish to thank the Commission and the University System Office for the opportunity to present testimony relating to Goal 6 of the State Plan and, in particular, Objective 6.1: “Admit and graduate a student population that reflects the racial, ethnic and gender diversity of the State.”

There is some irony in the fact that the president of Salisbury University, soon Salisbury University, is before you today. Of the thirteen USM institutions, SU’s student population has been the least diverse, with the exception of Coppin State University. Over the past two decades, the percentage of non-white students at Salisbury has fluctuated, though in recent years it has remained fairly stable at 7%, or 11% if one includes students from University of Maryland Eastern Shore, who come to SU to take classes through our cooperative programs.

We are proud that SU’s graduation rates for African Americans are high among the USM institutions, yet the 6-year rate of 51.9% for the 1993 student cohort still lags significantly behind the 65.6% graduation rate for all our students. Most recent MHEC data show that 60.4% of SU African-American students graduated within 6 years compared to a 6- year graduation of 70.6% for all students.

Salisbury University has received many kudos in recent years and is now celebrated among the top ten best regional public universities in the North by U.S. News & World Report and among the top 331 universities in the nation by The Princeton Review. Despite our many successes, early in my presidency I noted that there was one area in which SU must make rapid progress, and that is the area of campus diversity. Salisbury University is clearly “diversity-challenged,” especially when one considers the racial and ethnic population profile of both the Eastern Shore and the entire State of Maryland. This past fall, our freshman class included only 31 African American students (and only 64 non-white students) of 934 new enrollees. Beyond the statistics, members of the larger community, SU employees, and past and present students report that SU has much work to do to become a campus that truly welcomes a diversity of people and ideas.

In January 2001, I held a press conference to announce a series of initiatives designed to increase the diversity of the SU community. I have attached the complete text of our diversity agenda to this testimony. For the purposes of today’s testimony, let me highlight several efforts that are currently underway and that serve to expand diversity-sensitive admissions policies, enhance minority enrollments, and improve the retention, transfer, and graduation rates of students from under-represented groups at Salisbury University.

During the administrations of former Presidents Bellavance and Merwin, students were admitted almost exclusively on the basis of their SAT scores. Research has demonstrated that the SAT is but one measure of a student's ability to succeed at college, and non-white students often are disadvantaged by the SAT and other standardized tests. At SU, we are maintaining an emphasis on standardized tests as but one measure of a student's readiness for college, and considerations such as class standing, high school grade point average, involvement in community service and other activities are being given greater attention in admissions decisions.

To consider race in admissions decisions is to enter a minefield of legal and ethical questions. We do not have quotas at SU, though we do hope to attract more students, faculty and staff from under-represented groups. Interestingly, despite Goal 6 of the State Plan, the Attorney General’s office and a member of the Board of Regents have specifically advised me to proceed with great caution and to avoid legal challenges to our admissions policies. Despite this “catch-22” situation, our diversity initiatives are moving forward.

I have allocated $76,000 in the first year of a multi-year plan to implement the Partnerships for Success program. This program has the goal of recruiting a more diverse incoming class of freshmen and transfers, and is already impacting our Fall 2001 enrollments. The program establishes an affiliation between SU and a high school or community college program that identifies potential college students who may need additional guidance and support during the college search, admission and enrollment processes. Partnerships for Success waives application fees, guarantees qualified candidates who enroll at SU a minimum scholarship of $1000 per year for up to four years, and provides student and faculty mentors to enhance social and academic support.

A university education must be affordable, and currently Salisbury University is not competitive with other USM institutions in the amount of financial aid, both merit- and need-based, that is available to students. Our efforts to recruit a student population that more accurately reflects the demographics of the state will be more successful if we meet the goal of doubling the amount of financial aid we offer within five years.

To ensure that students from under-represented groups succeed once they arrive at SU, I have created the new position of Minority Student Achievement Specialist. Other retention efforts are taking place under the direction of Student Affairs personnel.

To assist me in providing leadership for our campus’s diversity efforts, I have reconfigured the former position of campus affirmative action officer. The new, upgraded position, Special Assistant to the President for Diversity Initiatives and Affirmative Action, will serve as the coordinator of information on efforts to enhance the diversity of the SU community and to promote the ideals of tolerance, inclusiveness, and celebration of differences in cultures and lifestyles.

It is estimated that 10 percent of the Delmarva Peninsula is Hispanic. SU has numerous initiatives underway to try to reach this underserved sector of the community. We have had preliminary meetings with Wor-Wic Community College to explore transfer opportunities for Hispanics.

With the University of Maryland Eastern Shore only 12 miles down the road, the challenge to achieve de-segregation at both universities is great. In order for Salisbury University to improve relations with the larger community and to give the message that at SU the welcome mat is out for non-whites, I have initiated a series of meetings with African American and Hispanic citizens of the Delmarva Peninsula. The purpose of these meetings is to break down existing barriers and improve community relations.

For some 20 years, the SU-UMES collaborative agreement has allowed students at both campuses to share programs, facilities, and resources. The special collaboration between a traditionally white campus and a Historically Black Institution has been recognized as a national model. We will renew our efforts to strengthen this program, as it enhances the diversity of both campuses.

If adequately funded, the above initiatives will meet with success. Many of us at Salisbury University were disappointed with the recent Office of Civil Rights Partnership Agreement in that it provides for enhancements for the HBCUs, but no funding for initiatives at Salisbury. Adding to our dilemma is the fact that SU is funded at about 90% of the funding guideline, while UMES and other Maryland universities are at or above 100%. Frankly, we hope that MHEC will assist us in attaining the funding necessary to continue to meet state goals.

I have advocated ardently and publicly for the need to admit and graduate a student population at Salisbury University that better reflects the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of the State. My initiatives have been controversial; while many applaud our efforts, others attack them. In order for these efforts to succeed, Salisbury University will need the unwavering support of MHEC and the USM.

Let me end on an optimistic note. For Fall 2001, SU has just under 5000 applications for 900 new freshmen spaces. Last year at this time, just 6.45% of our admitted students who had paid deposits were non-white. This year, 11.62% are non-white. Further, there is no decrease in the composite SAT scores of this year’s class as compared to last year's. We believe our efforts to meet Goal 6 of the State Plan are working; we believe that at SU we are making a difference. Please assist us by helping identify sources of funding to continue these diversity initiatives.

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