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OregonLive: Minorities’ population growth not reflected at Oregon colleges

by Bill Graves, The Oregonian 

Friday September 05, 2008, 10:10 PM

Oregon’s seven colleges and universities made incremental gains in increasing their minority student ranks over the past decade, failing to keep pace with minority increases in the state’s general and high school populations.

Minority faculty teaching in the universities increased by 1 percentage point over the decade to 9 percent in 2007-08, with the number of African American professors actually declining from 64 to 59.

Members of the State Board of Higher Education meeting at Portland State University on Friday afternoon expressed concern about the minimal progress and vowed to make increasing diversity among faculty and students a higher priority.

Board Vice President James Francesconi said that expanding diversity must become a part of the performance evaluation for Chancellor George Pernsteiner and the university presidents.

“We need the presidents to engage on this,” he said. “It has to be in your job description.”

Between 1998 and 2007, the percentage of racial and ethnic minority students in the Oregon University System climbed from 12 percent to 14 percent, while the overall state minority population grew from 14 percent to 18 percent. The university figures do not include international students, who account for 5 percent of enrollment or the 1 percent of students who report being of more than one race.

The minority population among the 38,000 seniors graduating from Oregon high schools and feeding the universities grew to 21 percent in 2007, up from 14 percent in 2001.

University officials described numerous strategies they’ve tried to increase minority enrollment. Several said they had modest success using financial incentives to attract minority professors.

Angelo Gomez, director of affirmative action at Oregon State University, said studies show that offering work that engages minority professors, such as an ethnic studies post, and searching for candidates outside the normal hiring channels also have proved successful.

But, he said, there are “strong head winds” built into the university hiring system.

“It is pretty clear there is a pretty entrenched pattern with respect to faculty diversity that is really hard to break,” he said.

Universities also have tried to attract and retain minority students by arranging campus visits when they are in high school and creating multicultural or diversity centers to support them when they get to college.

Preston Pulliams, board member and president of Portland Community College, said universities will be wasting their time with any program if they don’t ensure that professors are sensitive to the needs of their minority students.

“Where the rubber meets the road is in the classroom,” he said.

Latino residents have the lowest representation in the state university system. While they made up 10 percent of the state population and 11 percent of high school graduates in 2007, they accounted for only 4 percent of the students in Oregon universities. Asian Americans, by contrast, composed 4 percent of the general population and 5 percent of high school graduates, but represented 7 percent of university students.

Native Americans made up slightly less than 2 percent of the university enrollments, unchanged from a decade earlier, while accounting for about 2 percent of the general and high school graduate populations. African Americans composed about 2 percent of university students and of the state population and 3 percent of high school graduates.

Portland State University, the state’s largest, was the most diverse, with 17 percent of its students from minority groups, while Eastern Oregon University had the smallest minority population: 10 percent.

Minority students composed 15 percent of enrollment at Oregon State University, 14 percent at Western Oregon University, 13 percent at the Oregon Institute of Technology and 12 percent at the University of Oregon and at Southern Oregon University.

The state board resolved to return to the diversity issue at its next meeting and in its upcoming retreat. The board needs to define what it wants to see happen with diversity on Oregon’s campuses, said board member Kirby Dyess. “We absolutely have to set the direction.”

— Bill Graves; billgraves@news.oregonian.com

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