Minority retention reviewed

By Joe Bush

Discussions on state-mandated efforts to increase minority recruitment and retention at Tuesday’s Illinois Board of Higher Education meeting brought to light NIU’s contributions to that effort.

IBHE member Clara Fitzpatrick said the nationwide mandate to increase minority representation has facilitated efforts.

“Most of the advances black people have made have been because of the law,” she said. “There are many willing souls, but the force of law gets it done faster.”

NIU’s mandated effort has its roots in a 1966 pre-college preparatory and placement program called Upward Bound. Today’s NIU Office of Educational Services and Programs (ESP) has grown into a two-tiered, multi-program division assisting more than 600 pre-college and 2,000 college students.

Director Tendaji Ganges said though the office is “healthy and growing,” it has suffered from public misinformation and negative stereotypes.

“The constant reference to students being CHANCE students is erroneous,” Ganges said. “There is no way for a student to be ‘enrolled’ in CHANCE simply because any student who receives counseling services from CHANCE also receives academic services from ACCESS,” the academic assistance arm of the college tier.

The CHANCE program, Counseling Help and Assistance Necessary for a College Education, has been used to label any student who is specially admitted to NIU, Ganges said. He said there is a negative image attached to specially admitted students.

For example, Ganges said students who use the Career Planning and Placement Center are not called “career planning students.”

“Any single thing can knock a student out of regular admissions. For example, class rank isn’t high enough, they didn’t take the right mix of courses, etc.,” Ganges said. “The issue is whether the student categorically met all of the traditional admissions criteria. Many students do not meet one or more of those criteria, but are otherwise quite capable.

“The idea is looking down the road, when they give out diplomas. They don’t give out a special diploma for somebody who had financial aid or someone who used counseling services. You get a diploma, you get a degree,” Ganges said.

To increase the number of successful ESP students, Ganges began to overhaul the office when he was hired in October, 1987. After a comprehensive review and extra funding push, the college tier of ESP—ACCESS and CHANCE working together—has expanded from a first-year student service to one which serves “450 to 500 first-year students and all of the continuing upperclass students,” according to an ESP overview.

ACCESS, Access to Courses and Careers through Educational Support Services, includes programs such as Supplemental Instruction, in which upperclassmen attend classes with ESP students, “not to be another instructor and not to assist the existing instructors, but to be another set of ears and eyes and thinking for the students to help them better ascertain what happened in the class,” and expand interpretive skills, Ganges said.

Though the bulk of ESP students are minorities, Ganges said the programs are open to anyone.

“We are uncomfortable saying ‘Well, we also have white students,’ as if that somehow legitimizes the programs and services. It’s not necessary to legitimize them; they’re legitimate in and of their own right. It’s not necessary to use one population to legitimize the use of the services for another population. That’s racist.”

Ganges said though the desired results are not at hand, results from those students affected by the newly-expanded ESP will not be relevant for three to four years.