U2000 prompts re-evaluation of GC

by Kelly Wittman

For James W. Reed, a teaching assistant in General College, that college was the key to his higher education. Although the threats made by administrators last winter to close the college did not shake his belief in the University’s commitment to diversity as typified by U2000, it did raise other questions, he said.
“I have no doubt the University is committed to the principles laid out in U2000, but the question is whether or not it goes far enough and addresses all the issues that are needed,” Reed said.
The U2000 diversity priority, added to the restructuring plan in 1994, promises that the institution will work toward a diverse and inclusive University community. The degree of the school’s diversity and inclusiveness came into question in February 1996 when administrators brought forth a proposal to close General College.
General College is considered the most ethnically diverse college on campus at the University, since about one-third of its students are members of minority groups. About 13 percent of the Twin Cities campus are minority students.
The college was formed in the 1930s as an entry point to a University education for students who wished to pursue specific professions, like secretarial work and certificates. That mission had disappeared by 1985 — it was assigned to community colleges. General College then assumed the role of preparing otherwise under-prepared students for University degree programs.
For McKinley Boston, vice president for student development and athletics, General College was an inroad to the University. He said the University’s diversity in 1964 was centered in the college. General College served as a central meeting point at the University for minority students.
The General College fits into the U2000 diversity priority as both a point of access as well as a contributor to the retention of minority students at the University, Boston said.
“It contributes to retention because of the watering-hole notion. You need to feel comfortable and not isolated on campus; you need to see more than one person like yourself to feel good about your environment,” Boston said. “If you go to Howard University as a visiting student and walk into class of 30 where you are the only white, you develop a consciousness about who you are that you don’t think about when you’re in the majority. You need to be able to go into an environment where there are lots of you and you are not so isolated and alone,” Boston said. General College continues to fulfill this purpose.
Leslie Ducloux II, treasurer of the General College Student Assembly, said the college does an excellent job of making students feel comfortable at the University. “It’s kind of like a big family,” he said. “As you walk down the halls and see advisers that aren’t even yours they’ll say ‘Hi’ and many just leave their doors open.”
Administrators proposed last winter that General College be phased out because of the low five-year graduation rate of students who start there. Administrators found last spring that the graduation rate was about 9 percent. Also, General College students have a higher instructional cost of about $8,800 per full-time student as compared to $4,100 for similar students in the College of Liberal Arts. The proposal to close GC was later blocked by a Board of Regents resolution saying that no discussion of closing the college would be allowed at present.
However, in a paper presented by Catherine A. Wambach and Robert C. delMas at the Annual Forum of the Association for Institutional Research in May 1996, the researchers reported, “while part of the responsibility for the low graduation rate lies with the General College, the rate is also restricted by the graduation rate of the receiving college.”
Wambach and delMas found that a majority of transfers from the college enrolled in CLA, but only about 25 percent of those who transfer can do it in three years.
The 36 percent graduation rate of CLA restricts the five-year graduation rate of General College. If CLA’s five-year graduation rate remains stable, increasing the three-year transfer rate from 25 percent to 70 percent would not change the five-year graduation rate for the college, because CLA’s graduation rates affect it.
The study also found that the whole story was not told last spring about instructional costs. The $8,800 estimate for full-time students in the college included both direct costs, such as salaries and supplies, and indirect costs, such as estimates of General College’s share of the cost of central services and physical plant use. These fixed overhead costs were not added to the estimates for CLA and IT student costs.
When the indirect costs are taken out of that estimate, the actual cost for full-time General College students is $6,190. This is more than the CLA and the Institute of Technology spend on lower division students, but is not more than the other colleges spend on upper division or graduate students.
In addition, the researchers found that the instructional costs are largely out of the college’s control. In the 1980s, General College had one of the lowest costs per full-time student in the University. When the college’s central mission changed from applied certificate programs to preparing under-served students for other University colleges in 1985, the enrollment of the college was reduced by University administrators to facilitate the small class sizes its new mission entailed.
The staff and faculty of the college could not be reduced as quickly as enrollment, so the college has had too many teachers and too many classrooms for the number of students being served, Wambach and delMas said. Requests by General College administrators to increase enrollment have been refused by University administrators, making the problem worse, the report said.
Ducloux said he was a high school student registering for college when the debate about whether to close the school was going on. “As a high school student looking in, it looked like the University as a whole was trying to take away opportunities for people,” he said. “Politicians tell you they’ll push for college educations, but it looked like they were taking out a door.”
David Taylor, dean of General College, said the threat to close the school raised more questions about the University’s commitment to serving the public than its commitment to diversity. The plan to close General College failed because it was a not well thought-out policy, Taylor said.
U2000, in the broadest sense, is about serving the interests the state and creating educated citizens, he said. The responsibility for diversity falls to every unit admitting freshmen and graduate students, Taylor said. General College just serves a niche for those who have not met all of the administration’s standards but have shown the ability to work in a major research institution, he said.
It is inconsistent with U2000 to say General College is the unit responsible for the diversity agenda, Taylor said. The college takes on the diverse characteristics of a smaller community. Percentages of different groups are accentuated there rather than buried like they are in the large number of students in CLA, he said.
General College has pioneered the University’s commitment to diversity in the area of multicultural education, Taylor said. The college has encouraged its staff and students to bring their cultural backgrounds into the classroom where one can see it reflected in the tools used for instruction and the scholarship that results, he said. “Its a very self-affirming process and it’s been shown (that) those who work in a self-affirming environment are more productive,” Taylor said.
But Reed has some concerns that U2000 priorities might be adversely affecting those students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. U2000 eliminates vital undergraduate professional programs in favor of graduate programs, he said, such as the recently phased out undergraduate occupational therapy program.
“That doesn’t move us in the proper direction. Most students, especially those from not well-off families have to work a couple of years before graduate school,” Reed said. “The students affected are from an ethnic background.”
Reed said that the University should not discount the contributions of late bloomers. “If Einstein were applying to the University today he would be denied acceptance,” he said. “I’d rather take a chance and pay a little more money than deny a potential Einstein.”