University faculty and academic administrators must consider the differing needs of underrepresented minority graduate students to attract them into academic careers, according to a recent report sponsored by the California Community College Collaborative at the University of California, Riverside.
The report by Audrey J. Jaeger, (pictured below left) an associate professor at North Carolina State University, and Karen J. Haley, (pictured left), an assistant professor at Northern Illinois University, is based on interviews with 45 graduate students and 16 faculty and administrators at UC Riverside from 2008 to 2010.
The researchers found administrators were not fully aware of the considerable challenges faced by underrepresented minority graduate students. The administrators saw all graduate students as similar to themselves: locked into a career path that would lead to jobs at research universities or as a researcher in government or industry.
Almost no one saw the students as candidates for faculty jobs at state colleges or community colleges, career paths of actual interest to graduate students.
The report – Under-represented Minority Graduate Students at the University of California, Riverside: Prospective Faculty? — concludes that to address the dearth of underrepresented minority faculty, administrators need to be aware of the needs and desires of underrepresented minority graduate students and provide support systems to address their needs. The report also states that the students lack mentors and advocates to help them reach their goals.
While scholarly research has heavily focused on the diversity of student bodies at colleges and universities, little attention has been given to the makeup of professors. The report, and a follow up investigation underway that focuses on underrepresented minority faculty at community colleges in California, aims to address why there is a dearth of underrepresented minority professors. The report notes that underrepresented minorities make up about one-third of the U.S. population and college enrollment. However, in 2005 only 17 percent of nation's full-time professors belonged to an underrepresented minority group.
The report focused on UC Riverside because of its highly diverse undergraduate student body and because C4, a community college policy and research center, is located at UC Riverside, said Elizabeth Cox, assistant director at C4.
Cox, John Levin, director of the collaborative and interim dean of the UC Riverside Graduate School of Education, and several graduate students assisted in preparing the report.
The report highlights five findings:
Positions outside a research university appeared to offer graduate students a better work-personal life balance, which was shown to be more important than the perceived benefits of a faculty career.
Students committed to a faculty career expressed an unwillingness to recreate the status quo. In other words, students did not want to be told what to research. Instead, they wanted to undertake research "that mattered," such as work that would connect to their families and community.
Race is an authentic influence for underrepresented minority domestic graduate students selecting a faculty career. Decisions were based on the needs of family and community.
International graduate students seek career flexibility as well as social purpose. Similar to underrepresented minority domestic graduate students, international students were connected to their cultural values and were interested in helping other people through the knowledge they acquired receiving their doctoral degree.
Faculty and academic administrators' perspectives shape and limit the potential possibilities of career choices for graduate students.
The report also offers four recommendations:
Provide graduate students opportunities to gain knowledge of, and experience with, various career paths.
Create a culture that sees family and community as part of a faculty career, not a distraction from it.
Support and recognize graduate students who seek to integrate the needs of their career and community.
Develop intentional connections and conversations between academic administrators and diverse groups of graduate students.