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Release: Immediate

Increasing number of minority students earns Ph.D's from UI

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The number of minority students earning doctoral degrees from the University of Iowa is up dramatically this year, and UI administrators and the students themselves credit aggressive recruiting, financial aid initiatives, and a more "welcoming" climate for that development.

Between December 1996 and August 1997 some 21 UI minority students received or will receive their doctoral degrees, said William Welburn, associate dean of the UI Graduate College. In recent years, that number has been closer to five or six.

The new Ph.D's have earned degrees in a variety of fields, including American studies, comparative literature, counseling psychology, elementary education, English, history, political science, pharmacy, religion, and Spanish.

Perhaps more importantly, they are finding jobs in such places as Dartmouth, Notre Dame, Cleveland State University, Alabama State University, Prairie View A&M University, and a major health care research firm located in New Jersey.

"I see this as the result of the university becoming more aggressive in recruiting minorities in the late 1980s and the early 1990s," Welburn said. "Now we are seeing the first fruits of that labor."

Les Sims, dean of the Graduate College, credits aid programs for students from underrepresented groups as being an important factor in the increase in minority doctorates. One of those programs, the Graduate Opportunity Fellowship, provides aid for one or more years of graduate work and has helped the UI recruit better students.

"The GRE (Graduate Record Exam) scores of students who have received our Graduate Opportunity Fellowships are now equal to the scores of the average student accepted by the Graduate College," Sims said.

That success led Sims and other administrators to ask if additional financial aid would allow the UI to recruit more of the best students. Based on a pilot program going into its third year, the answer is "Yes," Sims noted. By offering students four or more years of financial aid, the UI has been able to attract students from underrepresented groups whose GRE scores are well above the average of all entering students.

(more) 5/23/97

The Graduate College also recruits minority students through its Summer Research Opportunities Program, which gives undergraduate students a taste of graduate education and academic research by allowing them to work with a faculty member on a summer research project. Each year, several "alumni" from that program enroll in UI graduate programs.

In addition, the Graduate College offers matching support for a number of externally-funded programs, such as the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need Grant in Mathematics and the Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowship Program in the Visual and Performing Arts.

Peter J. Ramsey, who earned his doctorate in pharmacy and is now working as a research scientist for Whitehall Robins Healthcare in New Jersey, agreed that financial aid and aggressive recruiting are of paramount importance. "If there are any overriding factors in terms of increases in the number of minority Ph.D.'s at Iowa, they would be directly related to recruitment and financial support from the university. It is difficult to recruit minorities, but that is compounded by competition from other schools where graduate tuition is waived or paid. I believe solid, aggressive recruiting is the key, as well as financial support."

Other factors are helping, too. With more minority graduate students coming to the UI, there is a growing perception that the university is a "welcoming" place, say the students.

"It's just a matter of how many faces you see around working on their doctorates," says Shelly Hall, who earned her doctorate in religion. "The UI is known for being in the forefront for people of color in higher education."

That's just what UI officials envisioned when they adopted a strategic goal of diversifying the campus and educating a diverse faculty for the future, notes UI President Mary Sue Coleman. "We really believe that diversity enriches the university community's intellectual and social life, so it's wonderful to see that our efforts are paying these dividends."