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ASA NEWS

June 07, 2002

Innovative Program Paves Way to Increase Diversity in Student Body and Make Lasting Institutional Change in Higher Education

American Sociological Association Report Highlights Best Practices for Changing Curriculum
to Address Diversity, and for Attracting, Training, and Retaining Students of Color

WASHINGTON, DC – In 2000, African Americans were 12 percent of the population, but received only nine percent of bachelor’s degrees and only 6.6 percent of doctorates. Hispanics were 12.5 percent of the population, but received only 6.3 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 3.8 percent of doctorates. A unique, multi-faceted program developed and spearheaded by the American Sociological Association (ASA) addresses such disparities and encourages more persons of all races and ethnicities to benefit from higher education and to help higher education benefit from greater diversity.

Nationally recognized experts in education and diversity and leaders of and participants in the program met today to review and discuss the Minority Opportunities through School Transformation (MOST) program and to explore ways to replicate the program’s achievements in other academic departments and at other institutions. The American Sociological Association conceived MOST with the intention of finding ways to alter “business as usual” practices at colleges and universities. Eleven institutions participated in the program from its 1994 launch through its conclusion this summer, and the data demonstrate that the MOST program has significantly increased diversity among the students and faculty and transformed the curriculum and climate in sociology departments at participating institutions. The group came together at the ASA conference, Transforming Higher Education: New Ways for Academic Departments to Advance Excellence & Inclusiveness, Lessons on Promoting Diversity from the MOST Program.

“MOST is unique among diversity-related projects because it focused on the academic department as the instrument of systemic, institutional change,” said Felice Levine, former Executive Officer of ASA, and the key architect of the MOST program. “We chose not to pursue a student-by-student or institution-wide approach because we wanted MOST to function right where education and training occur—at the department level. Departments have the capacity to initiate curriculum changes, recast the academic climate in which majors learn, make deliberate choices about mentoring, and conduct their own recruitment and training. We considered departments to be the strategic location of change in higher education, and the project’s results bear us out.”

Participating institutions were selected on a competitive basis and represent the broad range of U.S. colleges and universities. The 11 institutions are: Augusta State University; University of California, Santa Barbara; Grinnell College; University of Nebraska, Lincoln; Pennsylvania State University; Pitzer College; University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez; Southwestern University; Texas A&M University; University of Texas, El Paso; and William Paterson University.

The 11 participating departments made significant and lasting change by addressing five key elements of the educational process: curriculum; research; mentoring; climate; and the pipeline.

1. Curriculum. Through MOST, sociology departments re-evaluated curricula with a focus on better preparing students for graduate training and subsequent careers. MOST emphasized increased rigor in scientific methods, direct research experience, and the substantive integration of race, ethnicity, class, and gender.

2. Research. Participating departments worked to improve research training for all students so that they could develop the scientific reasoning skills, interest, and knowledge necessary for successful careers. Research training provides students with methodological competence and hands-on research experience under the guidance of faculty mentors.

3. Mentoring. MOST departments engaged in efforts to use mentoring of students as one of the most effective ways to engage students in education. Mentoring fosters broad-based knowledge and understanding, enhances students’ intellectual and social skills, and develops their professional identity. In the MOST program, mentoring was the responsibility of all faculty for all students.

4. Climate. Each institution in the MOST program worked to create a departmental climate that addressed issues of diversity and multiculturalism and that contributed to the development and growth of all students.

5. Pipeline. MOST was designed to increase the number of scholars of color throughout the academic pipeline, enhancing the education of diverse talent pools and preparing minority students for future leadership roles in the academy or beyond.

The results of the MOST program were dramatic:

At the outset of MOST, one quarter of the courses dealt with diversity compared with more than 50 percent by 2000-01.

The percentage of graduating minority majors nearly doubled over the course of the program. At the outset of MOST, 18 percent of graduating majors at the participating departments were minorities. By the end of the 2000-2001 academic year, 33 percent of graduating majors were minorities.

Departments reported similar results with respect to minorities on the faculty. In 1993-94, departments overall reported 22 percent of their faculties to be minority, but, by 2000-01, the proportion increased to almost 30 percent.

“MOST emerged at a time prior to the debate over affirmative action in higher education reaching a fever pitch, and in many respects it offers approaches that transcend the rhetoric,” Levine said. “Its success demonstrates that deliberate change, aimed at the department level in institutions of higher learning, enhances the education of students of color and of all students.”

The broad range of participating schools illustrates the effectiveness of the MOST approach. The program succeeded at all institutions—large and small, public and private, with or without Ph.D.-conferring programs, majority minority or majority white. The leaders of the program pointed out that, although MOST was designed for and implemented in sociology departments, the program’s lessons for those engaged in promoting diversity in higher education are relevant to all departments, to faculties in other fields and disciplines, to college and university administrators, and to the public and private foundation community.

The pre-publication edition of the report, Promoting Diversity and Excellence in Higher Education through Department Change, which served as the basis for discussion at the conference, also describes ten “best practices” drawn from departments’ experiences with the MOST program. Those are:

1) Important curricular change can occur deliberatively, yet incrementally.

2) Traditionally informal processes, such as mentoring students, need not be left to chance. Departments can put in place systemic ways to ensure that mentoring reaches all students.

3) Student engagement is essential.

4) Department chairs, department committees, and other university administrators must be engaged in the process of reform in order to achieve lasting change.

5) Students need to see the connections between what they do in class, what they are studying, and what underlies this work.

6) Modeling of professional behavior draws students into the profession.

7) Minority recruitment requires intentional outreach and persistence.

8) Physical space and informal opportunities matter greatly to department climate.

9) Multi-year, long-term projects can make lasting changes in the culture and mindset of a department.

10) Scientific and scholarly societies are an important source of leadership and support. Public and private foundations also have a valuable role.

The design of the MOST program, its basic tenets, and the ways in which it was implemented at diverse institutions illustrate that the program can be easily replicated as a change model for other disciplines. Participating departments developed deliberate approaches to problems that are often regarded as beyond the control of faculty, or even intractable, and achieved fundamental and sustainable change.

The final edition of Promoting Diversity and Excellence in Higher Education through Department Change will be released in early August. The MOST program and the report were funded by The Ford Foundation.

As the national organization for sociologists, ASA, through its Executive Office, is well positioned to provide a unique set of services to its members and to promote the vitality, visibility, and diversity of the discipline. Working at the national and international levels, the Association aims to articulate policy and implement programs likely to have the broadest possible impact for sociology now and in the future.

NOTE: Media copies of Promoting Diversity and Excellence in Higher Education through Department Change are available by calling Gretchen Wright or Matthew Freeman at 202/371-1999.

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About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org), founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.