Lexington freshman Camille Leach is often the only black student in a classroom full of white faces, making her realize she is a minority on the Hill.
But the situation may lead to more problems than that for her university.
Western failed last year to meet three of the eight objectives of the Kentucky Plan, a list of goals that public universities in Kentucky must meet to ensure blacks are given adequate opportunities in higher education.
The plan includes junior colleges but excludes private institutions.
Western has created a Kentucky Plan Task Force to help the university improve in the areas it has failed.
The task force is working to ensure that the university sees more of Kentucky’s black students enrolling and completing both their bachelor’s and master’s degrees on the Hill, said Luther Hughes, associate vice president for enrollment management.
Until Western improves in one of those areas it will remain under a “quantitative waiver,” said John Hardin, assistant to the provost for diversity enhancement. That means the university will have to file a waiver before it can offer any new degree programs in the university curriculum.
“The eight categories in the Kentucky Plan are all important,” President Gary Ransdell said. “We were doing well in the faculty staff employment categories, but we’re not doing as well as we should be in the student retention and graduation rate categories.”
Ransdell said he hopes the task force, which consists of professors, students and administrators, can help Western meet the plan’s objectives.
The task force has already met and is discussing ways to increase student retention, enrollment and graduation rates.
In April, the Committee on Equal Opportunities will visit Western to review those activities that support the objectives outlined in the Kentucky Plan.
Hughes said they will use university resources to give individual attention to students who fall into one of the three failed goal areas.
That will include black Kentucky students who are first-year freshmen and those who are beginning their sixth year at Western in 2004. The task force will also work to recruit students for Western’s graduate programs.
The Kentucky Plan requires Western to retain 65.9 percent of first-year black Kentucky students. At the end of 2003, Western had retained 63.2 percent of those students. There was a retention rate of 71.4 percent of white students.
Hardin said there is no specific factor that may have caused the retention rate to fall for black students.
While Western failed to retain black Kentucky students they also failed to meet the graduation goal.
The plan states that students who enrolled in 1997 should graduate after six years. In 2003, the plan called for 44.1 percent of black Kentucky students to graduate.
That year, 30.4 percent graduated.
The task force is trying to provide academic advising to black Kentucky students who are scheduled to graduate in 2004.
The university failed to meet a 5.2 percent enrollment of black Kentucky students in its graduate schools.
Western’s graduate school’s enrollment of black students is what may have kept them from meeting the 5.2 percent goal, said Elmer Gray, dean of graduate studies and research.
Western’s graduate schools had a 3.8 percent enrollment of black Kentucky students in 2002-03.
Some black Kentucky students find the stipends and doctoral programs at the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky more appealing than going to school at Western’s Gray said.
Georgetown junior Audrey Jones is one black student who will carry her bachelor’s degree from Western to what she sees as greener pastures.
Jones said the marketing graduate program at the University of Kentucky offers larger stipends and has an excellent reputation.
Black Kentucky students, particularly undergraduates, may be attracted to campuses with a larger community of black students, Gray said.
Leach said she began to look forward to coming to Western after she attended Spring Preview Day for minority students.
Leach was a high school senior when she came to Western and heard a panel of black students speak about black student life on campus. That event changed Leach’s outlook on student life at Western.
She joined the Amazing Tones of Joy gospel choir last semester and will compete in the Miss Black Western Pageant.
“I feel like I’m at home and at peace,” Leach said. “I’m around people like me.”
Preview days like the one Leach participated in are part of the efforts the university is making to increase diversity on campus.
Ransdell said the objectives in the plan are “very modest” and he would like to see Western be well ahead of the goals.
“They’re minimum standards that we need to reach,” Ransdell said. “If we’re not in compliance with two or three of the categories that’s cause for concern.”
Hughes said his expectations remain high for all areas of academic retention not just those outlined in the plan.
The task force will continue to study ways to assist Western in meeting the goals of the plan.
“We have several initiatives that are ongoing,” Hughes said.
Reach Adriane Hardin at [email protected]