Minority group finishes second study
By Niraj S. Desai
The Minority Student Issues Group has called on the MIT faculty to make a more concerted effort to address the needs of minority students. That recommendation is one of many included in the MSIG report on "The Recruitment and Retention of Minority Students at MIT," which was released yesterday.
Coming nearly two and a half years after the MSIG's controversial study of the racial climate at MIT, the report is the second in a planned series of three reports on minority concerns by the group. The 34-member MSIG is chaired by Dean for Student Affairs Shirley M. McBay and includes academic and administrative officials, and faculty members.
The October 1986 Racial Climate Report found that underrepresented minority students experienced unique feelings of isolation at MIT and concern about financing their educations. They also suffered from the perception that admission standards were lower for minorities and from the perceived contempt of non-minority students and faculty.
The report generated immediate debate both for its findings on the experiences of minority students and for its methodology, which included extensive use of anecdotal information.
McBay said last year that the national attention the Racial Climate Report received after its release delayed progress on the second report substantially. The second study had originally been scheduled for completion about two years ago.
The Minority Recruitment Report, which was distributed to the faculty, contains three major sections dealing with support services, admissions, and financial aid.
Support services should be "designed to assist, to inform, and to enhance students' experiences as they matriculate," the report notes. In the case of minority students, it is especially important that such services address the problems cited by the 1986 Racial Climate Report, according to the MSIG.
The Minority Recruitment Report documents a number of recent advances in support services for minority students. It notes that minority staff members have been added to several offices, including the Admissions Office, the Financial Aid Office, and the Graduate School. A research position in student affairs was established this academic year to aid in the review of minority student experiences. Also, a group was created representing various support services to monitor the progress of minority freshmen.
But if further progress is to be made in supporting minority students, academic departments and research centers must take up more of the burden, according to the report.
"It is critical that faculty and staff begin to respond more effectively to the needs of minority students who are currently enrolled," the report says. Toward this end, the MSIG recommends that: the President and chairman of the faculty formulate a policy for the academic community on minority enrollment and retention; a group be designated to monitor the implementation of the policy and any resulting programs; each department review the academic progress of its minority students; and the efforts to increase the number of minority faculty and staff be redoubled.
President Paul E. Gray '54 in a cover letter mailed to faculty along with the report, voiced support for the call for greater faculty and departmental participation. Such a response "must not include reducing academic standards or expectations for these students. . . . Rather, these problems call for greater faculty attention, for more creative and flexible remedies at the beginning of the matriculation process, and for a more affirming and supportive MIT environment overall."
The report notes that the number of underrepresented minorities in MIT's entering class has risen from 104 in 1986 to 169 in 1988. It attributes this rise to "intensified recruitment efforts by the admissions office staff and by minority students, and by the public candor with which MIT has discussed its racial climate."
To continue this progress, the MSIG recommends that MIT maintain or improve recruitment and enrollment strategies, and document and refine the efforts that contributed to the gains of 1987 and 1988. In particular, the report urges an examination of the changes that took place in the applicant pool in those years, and how they relate to the increased minority enrollment. To plan for the future, MIT should also examine the national pool of minority students and how it compares with MIT's pool and those of comparable institutions.
Moreover, the Institute should study the adjustment and performance of enrolled minority students, the report recommends. This will enable the Admissions Office to "refine our sense of what qualities and preparation make for a good `match' between individual minority students and MIT."
The Admissions Office can increase the attractiveness of MIT to minority students, the report says, by providing them with personal contact with MIT personnel and students, and by ensuring that they are aware of special awards and programs for minority students.
"The goal at MIT is to provide enough [financial] aid, on the basis of measurable need, to enable each admitted student to obtain a bachelor's degree within specified time limits." While this is MIT's stated goal, many minority students and their families may believe that MIT is still not a viable option because they perceive that the financial aid likely to be provided will be inadequate, the report says.
The MSIG calls on the Financial Aid Office to explore new ways to "communicate the strength and breadth of MIT's aid program to the minority community." Among the suggestions the group makes are special brochures aimed at minority and low-income students and more frequent visits by FAO personnel to secondary schools and regional admissions meetings.
The FAO should also begin a research project to determine if student loan levels, the student work burden, or the FAO's posture on parental support and outside aid resources impacts disproportionately on minority students, according to the report.
The report also recommends that MIT explore ways to facilitate the completion of financial aid applications by minority students. Admissions decisions on minority applicants might be made early in order to provide more time for the aid application process to occur, the report suggests. The FAO could also follow-up on continuing minority students who fail to submit aid-renewal applications.
One newly-created program that the MSIG singles out for praise is the MIT Opportunity Awards Program for students from the neediest families. The experimental program, which began operating this academic year, lowers the "self help" component of selected students' aid packages by $1500 to $2500. Of the 128 awards given, 60 went to underrepresented minority students.