Department close means negative changes

The University of Minnesota on Tuesday announced that in two years, it will close a department that aimed to help underrepresented students catch up with their peers.

The Department of Postsecondary Teaching and Learning, located in the College of Education and Human Development, will have its faculty and programs dispersed throughout the rest of the college in the next two years. The department is expected to fully close in fall 2016.

About 430 students go through the department in their first year, and more than one-third of those are first-generation, low-income or disabled students, according to a Minnesota Public Radio report on Tuesday.

In many ways, the department was meant to replace the University’s General College when it closed in 2006. The college’s shuttering was subject to much controversy, as to some it marked the transition from a more accessible University to a more selective one. Others feared it would prevent students of color from attending the University.

These fears may have become reality.

In fall of 2005 — just before the General College closed — students of color made up 14.6 percent of new freshmen on campus. By fall 2013, that amount increased by only about 3 percent.

At the same time, the University has pushed to become one of the world’s most elite research institutions, a goal it set in the early 2000s. ACT scores have steadily risen, and the Honors Program was created.

It’s clear that the University has geared itself toward being an exceptional institution tailored to the needs of gifted students and is less concerned with becoming an accessible school for all Minnesotans.

We believe the closure of the Department of Postsecondary Teaching and Learning could have detrimental effects for students who need help accessing a college education. As the University continues developing its image as an elite institution, we urge leaders to keep a strong focus on those who need help getting an education.