SPOKANE—Despite eight years of effort, minority enrollment is still down at Washington colleges and universities after voters passed an initiative outlawing racial preferences in admissions.
Black, Hispanic and American Indian students are less likely to go from high school to college, and more likely to drop out, than their White peers. And fewer than 5 percent of faculty members in the state are Black, Hispanic or Native American.
Yet minority groups are the fastest-growing parts of the population, expected to grow from 22 percent to 28 percent of Washington's total by 2020.
"I think there has been progress, it's just been slow progress," said Ricardo Sanchez, an associate director of education policy for the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board. "People are feeling more and more the need to do better."
A draft report by the Higher Education Coordinating Board looked at Washington's diversity efforts since the passage of Initiative 200 in 1998 and recommended improvements.
Educators gathered at Spokane Falls Community College to discuss the report, the first in a series of forums statewide.
"To many of us, the issue of diversity has a sense of urgency," said Ben Cabildo, a board member for the Community Colleges of Spokane. "It affects our lives on a day-to-day basis."
Gary Livingston, chancellor of the Community Colleges of Spokane, said he's become accustomed to hearing about good programs that end after a year or two when the money runs out.
"There are so many false starts in what we do that we fail to see students through," he said.
Among the report's recommendations: establishing pre-college summer scholarship programs for minority students to bring them to campuses; expanding college outreach in high schools and junior highs; offering incentives and visiting professorships for faculty members of color; and developing goals for diversity.
The report concludes that, while minority enrollments have recovered from a drop after 1998, they've now stalled or declined across the board.
This summer, Community Colleges of Spokane spent about $10,000 advertising faculty openings in the Seattle and Tacoma area, hoping to attract more diverse candidates, Livingston said. But it didn't produce an increase in the schools' faculty members of color.
One reason may be that Spokane remains a largely White community, he said.
"Diversity begets more diversity," he said.
While I-200 banned specific racial preferences and quotas in admissions, universities have remained committed to broadening ethnic diversity.
Melynda Huskey, assistant vice president for equity and diversity at Washington State University, said the Pullman-based school is more closely studying enrollment data.
She said Washington State University's first Equity Scorecard showed that Black students make up 2.7 percent of full-time undergrads, but just 1.3 percent of degrees in science, technology, engineering and business.
Eastern Washington University just hired its first faculty fellow for diversity, James Ochwa-Echel, who will teach, help develop multicultural curricula and guide overall diversity efforts.
But the Higher Education Coordinating Board's draft report concluded that, while individual schools had undertaken a lot of diversity initiatives, they "do not address a greater need for systemic change."
Sanchez said colleges have done a good job of increasing enrollments over the past few decades. Currently, most ethnic minorities enroll in college at about the same level as their overall proportion in the state population with the exception of Hispanic students.
But overall academic success rates show a different picture. Sanchez cited a Census Bureau report that said that between 1971 and 2001, 33 out of every 100 White kindergartners went on to earn a college degree.
For Black kindergartners, that figure was 18. For Hispanics it was 11. For Native Americans, it was seven.
— The Associated Press