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TOPIC: How universities can help students embrace..

How universities can help students embrace.. 4 years 7 months ago #20

Research on campus cilmate addresses the success of diverse student populations in postsecondary contexts.

Pofessor of Education Sylvia Hurtado is a climate expert. Her research does not measure L.A.’s unprecedented summer swelter, lack of rain this year, or even global warming. Instead, Hurtado focuses on measuring the climate on college campuses nationally.

The climate for diversity has become a major focus on our nation’s university campuses,with Hurtado studying the consequences for student and faculty retention and progress. As director of UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), Hurtado has helped to expand the Institute’s research programs with the goal of addressing the success of diverse student populations in postsecondary contexts. HERI houses multiple grant projects that study these issues, and the institute also conducts a number of surveys that provide invaluable information on the way that life really is for students and faculty in today’s institutions of higher education. HERI’s data is cited not only in academic research, but widely in national and international media.

HERI is home to the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP), which produces the most comprehensive source of information on American higher education systems. Established in 1966 by the American Council on Education, the CIRP is the nation’s largest and oldest empirical study of higher education. The Freshman Survey, Your First College Year Survey, Diverse Learning Environments Survey, and the College Senior Survey make up the CIRP’s longitudinal program, which has been administered by HERI since 1973 and follow students throughout their higher educational experiences to discover what is working and what isn’t working. HERI also helps to train educators in using this data for institutional improvement in an annual CIRP Summer Institute.

Since Dr. Hurtado became director of HERI, four additional institutes were introduced to expand the link between research and practice. In summer 2014, HERI coordinated four institutes for academic administrators, institutional researchers, and scholars: The Retention and Persistence Institute for using data to assist degree attainment goals; the Institute on Faculty Work/Life Issues; the Diversity Research Institute (which was held on the UCLA campus and also in Chicago for campus diversity teams for the consortium of the Big Ten research universities plus the University of Chicago) that emphasizes the intentional use of data to facilitate diversity goals; and the newest institute, introduced for the first time in 2014, the STEM Summer Institute, which focused on improving evidence-based teaching and learning practices to increase STEM degree production. Most of the institutes’ curriculum draws on the research of Professor Hurtado and the work of colleagues such as Kevin Eagan, newly appointed director of CIRP surveys, and invited guests who have collaborated with HERI.

Hurtado continues to coordinate a number of national projects, including more than ten years of research for the National Institute of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) on the conditions for student success in STEM fields and the science behind interventions for underrepresented students in higher education. Another national project has focused on understanding degree attainment and helping diverse campuses move the needle on their graduation rates for low-income, first generation, and underrepresented groups. She is also collaborating on an Obama-Singh initiative, working to introduce survey instruments and practices in India that address low-income college populations. All three areas have caught national attention and interest, resulting in reports by the Obama administration, reports commissioned by Congress, and information produced by the National Research Council (NRC) and the National Academies of Science (NAS). Dr. Hurtado serves on the Board of Higher Education and Work for the NRC/NAS.

Dr. Hurtado earned her doctorate in education from UCLA, her master’s degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a bachelor of arts degree in sociology from Princeton University. Prior to arriving at UCLA in 2004, she served as director of the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan. She also served on the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools for the University of California system for six years, chairing changes on admissions review and eligibility to attend California’s public four-year colleges and universities.

A prolific author of articles and books on student educational outcomes, campus climate, and diversity within higher education, Dr. Hurtado has two books being published next spring that will focus on her longstanding interest in advancing education for Latina/os in higher education. She co-edited “Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Advancing Research and Transformative Practice”(Routledge Press) with HEOC alumnus Anne-Marie Núñez, an associate professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio and alumna of UCLA’s Higher Education and Organizational Change Division (HEOC), and Emily Calderón Galdeano of Excelencia in Education. The other book focuses specifically on the educational journey of Mexican Americans entitled, The Magic Key (University of Texas Press) with Ruth Zambrana, University of Maryland.

Hurtado has served as a past president of the Association for the Study of Higher Education. In 1999, Black Issues In Higher Education named her among the top 15 influential faculty whose work has had a profound impact on the academy.

Ampersand spoke with Dr. Hurtado on the sociological study of higher education, the far-reaching scope of HERI’s research, and the challenges to campuses at a time when engaging students, faculty, and staff in embracing diversity as a core institutional value is necessary in terms of demographic change and economic growth.

Ampersand: What have been some of the major changes to the student population that HERI studies in the last decade?

Sylvia Hurtado: When you follow students for seven to ten years, you begin to understand that they don’t attend one institution. We’re finding that high-achieving students in STEM will take a course at a local community college or sometimes a four-year if they can’t get the courses they need [at their home institution].

That is one of the major changes – we were trying to get at student mobility in terms of where they start and where they end up. This ties in with our larger retention project. We’re not just looking at whether they stay in one institution. All of the research looks at students longitudinally in terms of their changes through the first year, then through the fourth year, and forward, looking at post-college outcomes.

The use of technology is something that is very important in our surveys. I am also including more questions on diversity. The work I had been doing at university campuses before I came here was about looking at the outcomes of diversity: what does it mean, what does it look like at a historically Black institution, at a historically Hispanic-serving institution, and predominantly white institutions. These are places where retention is more difficult, and you are dealing with first-generation, low-income students who are more mobile.

&: How does racial composition affect the college experience?

SH: It’s not really about racial composition, but the degree to which people interact. You can bring diverse people together, but it’s not a truly desegregated institution unless students are engaging with each other. HERI’s databases and also the previous work I’ve done with universities looks at the impact of interaction and how it affects students in terms of activities, their democratic sensibilities, and their academic work.

&: What was your experience as a minority student at Harvard and Princeton?

SH: I think I do the climate work that I do because I am still trying to unpack that experience. That led to my first project on looking at [racial] climate using large-scale national data, and understanding how it is different for Chicano, African American, and white students.The work I do now looks much more at the broader environment in terms of institutional support and practice, but still focuses on student identities and how to make our institutions more responsive.

You would think that the broader, more diverse campuses don’t have a problem. But what we’re finding is that racism and stereotyping don’t go away, because they are part of society. As institutions become more diverse, the real work starts.Educationally, we still have to provide ways for students to learn about difference, and manage it, accept it, and develop more tolerance.

&: How can faculty and staff support students in developing tolerance and embracing diversity?

SH: We just finished a climate study at a well-known university. Basically, the [underrepresented] students tried to make [other] students comfortable because they know that people have a lack of awareness about difference and backgrounds, and [carry] lots of assumptions. Those students who are really bright know how to negotiate [differences in a system of privilege], and they know the issues when they come up. Only on occasion did they have educators facilitate discussions and provide more knowledge. When it comes from authority, it probably has more weight.

We do ourselves a disservice when we don’t encourage students to question the way things are. What is so important about what we do at HERI and what is evolving in my work is thinking about the students we educate as social change agents. The choices we make everyday are either reconstructing the status quo or keeping things the same within institutions.

&: When you led the discussion on Hispanic-serving institutions at AERA, you spoke about “cultural capital.” How can the value of cultural capital be emphasized for students?

SH: The benefits of diversity that we’ve seen in the literature and have focused on in our research are clear, but the conditions have to be right. We’re thinking about every person’s role in constructing a climate. Developing a welcoming environment is very important. And I think that those institutions that have adopted that as part of their culture really have diversity as a core value. This means they value what students bring and validate their perspective in the classroom, even if these do not reflect ‘middle-class’ norms.

That means, for example, when we talk to students, we ask, ‘What do you learn from your peers who are different from you?’ They talk about some of the typical outcomes (e.g. a broadened perspective), but they also talk about the barriers and difficulties.There is learning happening, but the conditions for successful learning have to be created, and that means having opportunities for authentic conversations.

&: How can campuses overcome the barriers that prevent STEM learning and careers among minority students and to encourage the recognition of diversity as an asset?

SH: It is common to talk about stereotyping, to talk about how students need peers to support them and how they also need to be recognized by faculty in order to develop their identity as scientists. We’re going to have to think more broadly about identifying talent in the STEM fields.

Our research puts us in contact with people who have a broader understanding about what it takes to be a scientist. It takes determination; it takes imagination. You have to not be afraid of failure. There are faculty who can identify those traits among students from underrepresented groups who have a natural interest and ability.

I’m not saying that everyone has the skill to be a scientist, but I think that there are some traits that make people really good scientists – it’s not about simply being able to memorize a lot of information in a short amount of time and to get that right on an exam. I’m hoping that the work we’re pulling together for STEM will be able to show as students enter, how their interests and pathways change and also the kinds of things that can make a difference for students in the first year, fourth year, and beyond.
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