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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMB Grad Departments Need More Diversity

On April 25th, Lets Take It To The Hill!
On April 25th, Let’s Take It To The Hill!

UMass Boston Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs Patrick Day visited with the Graduate Student Assembly (the grad equivalent of Undergraduate Student Senate) a few weeks ago, and we had an opportunity to listen to him hold forth on a number of student-related issues-including one which immediately caught my ear, the dearth of organized programs for UMB grad students to mentor UMB undergrads.

During the Q&A period of the meeting, I commented that I had been reading recent administration figures about racial diversity at UMB, and that while we were all justly proud that we are the most diverse college in the Northeast, it would seem that is only the case at the undergrad level. Turns out that a respectable 39% of our undergrads are students of color from the U.S as of Fall 2005. But only 17% of our grad students.

I continued, saying that much as I like all my grad student colleagues I chose to stay at UMass Boston for grad school after graduating CPCS largely because UMB is so tremendously diverse compared to many other colleges in the U.S. Plus, as a native Bostonian, I have that whole local pride thing going on, too.

So it was kind of a shock to discover, in interactions with a few dozen fellow students over the last couple of months in a number of departments, that many UMB grad students fit the standard profile of grad students at most American universities to this day-white, middle class (and above), and the product of private or elite public primary and secondary schools. Although every current grad student certainly has a perfect right to be at UMB, the admin statistics and my casual observations imply something disturbing to me-a diverse cross-section of UMB undergrads is not going on to grad school at UMB, nor are our undergrads going on to our grad school in sufficient numbers.

If they were, the grad population would be far more diverse than it is now. Still, there are a number of steps the university community can take to improve the situation in short order.

First and foremost, I entirely agree with Vice-Chancellor Day that grad students need to step up and seek opportunities to mentor and coach undergraduate students wherever possible. Beyond helping undergrads improve their academics, it is critical that grad students encourage them to consider coming to graduate school at UMB in any of the courses of study we have on offer.

A couple of upcoming campus events are worth noting along these lines. The Office of Graduate Studies is holding their annual “Graduate Studies Showcase” on Nov. 15th with representatives from every graduate department and many graduate student organizations on hand. And the GSA, partially as a result of the conversation with the Vice-Chancellor, has called a “So You Want to Go to Grad School…” discussion session for Nov. 29th. (Stay tuned to these pages for more info.)

Second, it makes no sense to me that UMB doesn’t offer GRE (and MCAT, LSAT, etc.) prep courses to undergrads. It’s bad enough that unregulated corporations like Kaplan (a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Washington Post Company, and now more profitable than the parent corporation) control the test prep market, while closely-connected unregulated “non-profits” like the College Board control the tests. If our society ultimately agrees that we really need such high-stakes entry tests at the grad level, they should be administered like any other civil service exam by the state and federal government, and offered free or cheap to all. Since such an idea is not even on the table at the moment, public universities like UMB should take the lead in providing test prep courses to help our undergrads excel at the test. This in itself would remove a major obstacle to grad school entry for many UMB undergrads.

Third, UMB should go a step further and remove the requirement for such high-stakes tests for all of its grad programs for any UMB undergrad who applies for entry. Some grad departments, like English, already don’t require the GRE. It would be great if all the other grad departments, including mine (Public Policy) could remove this barrier to entry. UMB undergrads would still have to submit the same writing samples, academic records, and resumes as applicants from elsewhere, but dropping the GRE requirement would save them precious time and money-and lower their already high stress levels.

If such a program works well, maybe UMB could finally decide to join the growing ranks of colleges that are “testing-optional”-allowing prospective students for both undergrad and grad programs the possibility of getting into our school without “alphabet soup” test scores on their application. That bold step would likely increase UMB diversity at all levels, and start moving this institution back towards the democratic principles of open admission that was once a goal of public higher education systems around the nation. The current UMB leadership is probably not interested in walking that far down this particular road, but maybe they’ll be willing to go partway-instituting on-campus test prep courses, and dropping the GRE requirement for UMB undergrads seeking admission to UMB grad programs. I will be curious to see if these ideas gain any ground in the years to come.