Kaler’s top priority: increase diversity

The president-select hopes to implement the Educational Opportunity Program.

Kaler’s top priority: increase diversity

Conor Shine

The University of Minnesota needs more minority students, according to incoming president Eric Kaler, who will make fostering a more diverse student body one of his first goals.

He plans to take the Educational Opportunity Program, used at Stony Brook University, where he is currently provost, and recreate it in Minnesota.

Diversity on campus, in both the student body and the faculty, is one of about five major issues Kaler said he plans to tackle immediately upon taking office in July. “The number of students of color in the University is too low,” Kaler said shortly after his Nov. 18 appointment.

Educational Opportunity Programs exist at various colleges nationwide. At Stony Brook, it takes minority students from low-income backgrounds “who might not have had any expectation of succeeding,” Kaler said, and offers intensive mentoring, advising and support services.

The program is “portable, it translates and IâÄôm excited about bringing it here,” Kaler said at a public forum on campus. “WeâÄôre going to provide a structure to bring people of color into this university and enable them to succeed.”

Currently, students of color make up 18 percent of the 30,500-person undergraduate student body at the UniversityâÄôs Twin Cities campus. The University and its colleges offer a variety of programs to recruit and support minority students, said Rickey Hall, assistant vice provost for equity and diversity.

Hall said he was unfamiliar with the program at Stony Brook, but officials in his office discussed bringing an Educational Opportunity Program to campus a few years ago after seeing the impact it had at the University of Washington. However, the program wasnâÄôt pursued due to a lack of funding.

“I was excited when I heard [Kaler] talk about it, because itâÄôs something that we had been talking about here as well,” Hall said.

The University needs to work toward closing the gap in graduation rates between majority and minority students, Kaler said. At Stony Brook, minority students in the program graduate at a higher rate than white students, he said.

Hall said shifting demographics in the next decade will lead to a declining number of high school graduates in the state, particularly among white students. There is a projected increase in the graduation rates of minority students, and recruiting, educating and graduating those students will become increasingly important for the University.

The Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence currently provides tutoring, mentoring and scholarship support for nearly 1,100 students on campus annually.

Other University programs target minority and low-income students in grades K-12 and prepare them for college.

The North Star STEM Alliance is a federally funded program at 16 Minnesota colleges âÄî including the University âÄî that aims to double the number of undergraduate minority students getting science, engineering and math degrees.

Mathematics sophomore Xavier Garcia said the program gave him an opportunity to interact with industry professionals and helped him stay focused
on graduating.

“Academically, I definitely feel more supported. I have access to tutors, I have people who I know care for me,” he said. “In a more social sense itâÄôs nice seeing more people of your own culture, and I can relate with these people, talk and share the same kind of feelings.”