Financial resources limit diversity enrollment

ALAN THOMPSON

acthompson09@ole.augie.edu

Despite additional financial and strategic efforts, the college’s number of domestic ethnically diverse students remains virtually unchanged from last year at 5 percent.

Diversity scholarships increased from $231,000 to $238,500 in the past year but don’t seem to be enough, President Rob Oliver said.

“We have tried to access these groups within the resource constraints that we have, but we have to balance the desire that we have to create diversity with the reality of our ability to do so,” Oliver said.

The college’s endowment value dipped from 56 to 55 million in the past year, with a negative one percent investment return, according to Tom Meyer, Vice President for Finance and Administration.

Competing needs for endowment monies create challenges, Meyer said, not to mention the past 10 years of a “rollercoaster of markets and returns.”

While the college hopes to double its endowment, freeing up money for future building constructions and scholarships, Oliver said  takes money and time.

But the time is now, at least for senior biology major Tony Yang, a Hmong-American from Forest Lake, Minn., who sees the benefit in diversity of all kinds.

“I can only take so much of biology majors,” Yang said. “I need that interaction with different people who come from different backgrounds and majors. That is how I feel connected and grounded.”

Located in a city that serves as a home for many refugee and immigrant populations, Augustana is poised to diversify itself in the future, according to Oliver.

“If we do our job right, a decade from now, we will be much more diverse,” Oliver said.

But due to financial limits, the college hasn’t developed any programs to boost its domestic diversity recruitment efforts, according to Nancy Davidson, Vice President for Enrollment. Davidson also said the college is a member of the Minnesota Association of Counselors of Color (MnACC) in an attempt to improve access to higher education and has participated in a few of its college fairs, but notes there’s room for improvement.

“Serving students with true ethnic diversity is important and I think there’s more that we can do,” Davidson said. Though it’s difficult, she also said the college thinks seriously about admittance for students with little chance of success at Augustana.

“We’re always looking for what is in the best interest of the student; we don’t want to set them up for failure,” Davidson said. “It’s not necessarily that a student has to meet all minimum standards that Augustana sets for admission, it’s more, what insight do we have in terms of their ability to be successful?”

Davidson pointed to creative scheduling, appropriate adviser matches, and a five-day-a-week English course as a few systems of support for students.

However, such changes don’t prove adequate for sophomore Abreya Oda, an African American of St. Paul, Minn., who is considering transferring.

“A lot of minorities left last year,” Oda said. “Getting here is one thing, but staying and graduating – that’s another thing.”

Oda said she would benefit from more support on campus, be it additional staff within the multicultural affairs office or through increased faculty.

“I don’t think minorities have support,” Oda said. “It would be nice to see a face and have somebody that goes through the same things you go through to be there to talk to me about this.”

Although the college created Assistant Dean of Students Mark Blackburn’s position as director of multicultural affairs in 2008, that’s not enough support, Oda said.

“He’s only one man – he’s not Superman,” Oda said. “He has a family and kids.”

“If I’m having a problem in English, I want to talk to somebody I can relate more to, like an African American or Asian or Pacific Islander or Native American.”

Just 97 of Augustana’s 1,839 students are domestic minority students, including American Indian, Asian, Black and Hispanic, according to Darla Werner, Director of Institutional Research.

While the number has more than doubled since 2003, when the college had 45 domestic minority students, the United States Census Bureau shows that in 2011, South Dakota boasts a substantive American Indian and Alaska Native population at nearly nine percent of the state’s total population.

The scholarship part of the endowment generates about 1.2 million dollars for students this year, Brenda Murtha, Director of Financial Aid said. She also said that a boost in the college’s endowment would free up more money for student scholarships.

“We really need to grow our scholarship endowment so we can have more of those scholarships with an endowment base behind them,” Murtha said.

Current diversity scholarships range from one to seven thousand, Murtha said, but she remains uncertain of the college’s ability to increase its domestic ethnically diverse population as tuition rises and the federal aid programs remain stagnant.

“As the gap in funding between what we can do and what the federal government can do and what our price is grows, I worry about how we’re going to be able to keep and attract those type of students,” Murtha said.

Blackburn is asking alumni to serve as mentors for minority students. He also started a minority-mentoring program between upper and lower classmen, the Diversity House and SWAG, a group geared toward improving the campus’ understanding  of cultures.

“It’s all-inclusive to any culture, but primarily the African American Culture is represented,” Blackburn said of SWAG, which plans to bring in speakers to create awareness as well as go out into Sioux Falls high schools to connect with ethnically diverse students.

Oda believes such efforts will help the college to enroll more minority students and improve diversity on campus.

“The more, the better,” Oda said.

Caucasian junior Erick Oerke of Denver, Co., wants Augustana to be a better representation of the changing demographics.

“If they continue to bring in diverse speakers and programs that induce interest from the growing diverse communities within Sioux Falls, we’d stand a better chance of recruiting more of those kids,” Oerke said.

According to Davidson, the college attracts students with a diversity of interests in the arts, athletics, leadership and service.

But Augustana isn’t achieving its standard of excellence, according to Mark Blackburn,

“To be excellent you have to be inclusive,” Blackburn said. “We need to work on that.”