Minority event brings administration to answer questions about retention

Tyler Prochazka

WKU students had the opportunity to get up close and personal with several key players in the WKU administration.

The Black Students Association hosted a discussion on Wednesday about efforts to promote diversity on campus.


President Gary Ransdell, Provost Gordon Emslie, Chief Diversity Officer Richard Miller and Vice President for Student Affairs Howard Bailey all came to answer questions from those who attended.

Miller emphasized that while much can still be done to promote diversity, the university has made progress in the last couple years.

“Every student we accept here at WKU, we should do everything we can to see them succeed and ensure they graduate,” he said.

One issue Miller said disproportionately affects minority students was the lack of retention between school years. He said the white retention rate was 75 percent, but this is brought down to 64 percent overall when factoring in minorities.

“That gap is narrowing,” Miller said. “But it still points out the importance of working with our first-year students.”

In order to improve the retention numbers, Ransdell said the university is attempting to determine how much of the drop-off is caused by financial concerns, or by other concerns.

Randsell said the retention numbers from the fall semester to the spring semester “were down this year.”

“We don’t have the answer; we’re trying to find the answer, but we know the problem,” Randsell said.

Currently, the university offers remedial courses at South Campus in order to aid some students in the transition to college. However, Ransdell said students have faced some problems when attending courses on South Campus, making the main campus experience too different for students attempting to transition.

“We don’t need to separate those students from the rest of the university experience,” Ransdell said.

As a result, WKU is now limiting students to two courses on South Campus, Ransdell said. This is due to “conversations like this over the last couple years,” he said.

Miller said the university is also trying to hire more minority professors.

“We are hoping to improve the number of faculty on campus that look like us,” Miller said, referring to the minority students.

Emslie said another crucial way to improve retention was for students to declare a major because this made them “five times more likely to be retained.”

Outside of the university, Miller said one solution was to increase peer mentorship among minority students.

“It makes a huge difference when they hear things from you than when they hear things from us,” Miller said.

In order to address many of these concerns, and as part of a mandate from the Kentucky Council on Post-secondary Education, WKU produces an annual assessment on its progress in diversity and a plan to continue improvement, Miller said. He said the report shows WKU is “making progress in certain areas.”

According to Ransdell, one of the areas of improvement is the increase in the African American student population at WKU, which he said is second only to the University of Louisville. This has placed the African American population at WKU at 11 percent.

“We’ve doubled the number of African American students in the last seven or eight years on this campus by a conscious effort,” Ransdell said.

Ransdell said he is proud of these numbers, and he hopes this proves WKU is creating an environment where African American students and others feel welcome.

“This is a campus community where students of every race color and religion are welcome and embraced,” Ransdell said.