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November 19, 2007

Gains Reported, But Gaps Remain For Minorities In College
Progress report on serving underrepresented groups highlights IBHE meeting

SPRINGFIELD – Minority students have posted solid gains in enrollments and, to a lesser extent, in degrees earned, but troubling trends continue in some areas, particularly in graduate degrees and faculty ranks. And although surveys of colleges and universities suggest a general satisfaction with the campus climate for underrepresented students and faculty, tensions and discontent also are present.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) will discuss steps needed to improve college access and success for minority students and students with disabilities when it considers the 2007 Report to the Governor and General Assembly on Underrepresented Groups in Illinois Higher Education at its meeting December 4 at Northeastern Illinois University. In addition, Board members will hear from representatives of disabilityworks and the Board’s Disabilities Advisory Committee on progress and challenges in addressing needs of students with disabilities.

“This report demonstrates both some significant progress in serving minority students and those with disabilities as well as the fact we still have much work to do to bring underrepresented groups into the educational mainstream in Illinois,” Carrie J. Hightman, Chairwoman of the Board of Higher Education, said. “Improving the educational attainment of students historically underserved in higher education is not only a top priority of the Board of Higher Education, it is an economic and moral imperative for the state of Illinois.”

The importance of minority participation trends in higher education is underscored by the finding that between 1996 and 2006 the Illinois population increased by nearly 900,000 residents, a growth fueled entirely by the rise in underrepresented populations. The white population actually declined 3 percent during that span, while the population of underrepresented groups soared by 1.1 million people, or 35.5 percent.

On the upside, the report shows that from 1996 to 2006, enrollments of blacks and Hispanics in higher education grew considerably. But there are disconcerting trends as well – particularly in graduate studies and employment of minority faculty. Despite efforts to bolster faculty diversity, Hispanic and African American faculty ranks are a fraction of the overall minority representation in the population at large.

The report urges continued support for the Diversifying Faculty in Illinois Higher Education (DFI) program, which provides stipends to minority graduate students to help build a pool of candidates for faculty positions, and recommends support for measures that will raise the educational attainment levels of Hispanics and identify and rectify the problems that lead black males to falter on the path of education success.

In surveys about campus climate, students with disabilities report a need for additional counseling and academic advising, improved academic support for freshmen, and greater availability of adaptive technology. Those issues and others will be discussed with Board members by Karen McCulloh, Executive Director of disabilityworks, and Tom Thompson, who chairs the Board’s Disabilities Advisory Committee. Disabilityworks is an initiative of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities throughout the state. The Disabilities Advisory Committee was created in 2004 to help advance an agenda for serving students with disabilities. The committee has focused on developing a common metric for collecting and reporting information on students with disabilities and creating standards for web accessibility for all colleges and universities.

“Diversity is a fundamental principle of higher education,” Chairwoman Hightman said. “This Board is committed to building campus communities that reflect the diversity of Illinois and enrich the educational experience of all students. We intend to revisit this matter at our February meeting with an invitation to a nationally recognized authority on diversity to address the Board.”

In a related matter, Board members will act on a recommendation to appoint Leslie J. Drish, education director of the Chicago Urban League, to fill a vacancy on the program board of the Diversifying Faculty in Illinois initiative. DFI was created by statute in 2004 to combine two forerunner graduate fellowship programs with a fresh focus on preparing minority master’s and doctoral candidates to join the faculty at Illinois colleges and universities. It is the state’s premier program for diversifying the faculty ranks in Illinois.


Don Sevener

Kelley Talbot 217.557.7354

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