Editorial: Give more attention to minority retention
The problem of retaining and graduating students is an extraordinary conundrum for an institution like the University of Arizona. At a large public university like this one, financial resources are forever scarce. Thus to focus on the needs of incoming students is a difficult proposition. Nowhere is this problem more evident than in the situation that faces Native American students. While retention and graduation rates are low for most minority groups, a mere 4 percent of Native Americans who attend college will graduate, according to the American Indian Digest.
The matriculation from high school to college is one fraught with academic and social peril for any incoming freshman. Native American students, however, face acute problems in adjusting to a university community like this one, Native American Student Affairs assistant dean G. Bruce Meyers told the Arizona Daily Wildcat.
"The drop out problem," he said, "is due to the university dropping out on them," offering "little more than a cultural drop-in center." The problem, Meyers said is one of resources.
Even the relative financial trifle of the campus' cultural resources centers has been threatened in the past 18 months by a legislative attempt to eliminate the centers as a sacrifice to the anti-affirmative action stance of the Republican Party's right wing. To Arizonans, sadly, it appears the centers are an expense that raise the specter of preferential treatment. It is the same logic used to eliminate genuine affirmative action programs at state funded schools in California.
This university, however, must continue to look past the race-baiting banter of state and national political leaders. A lack of cash can not stand as a public university's excuse for not dedicating an appropriate level of funding to the retention of the minority students and students in general who make up this land grant community. What is needed is a redirection of spending priorities and assessment of the needs of, for example, Native Americans students. The University of Arizona needs to be a national leader on the issue.
Today marks the completion of the R.E.T.A.I.N. '99 conference at the UA, a series of workshops and seminars designed to focus on the retention and graduation difficulty that face UA Native American students. From Native American school mascots to developing solid student services programs, the conference is exactly the kind of conversation one hopes will lead to new ideas and, eventually, a new financial dedication of the university, and the higher education community in general, to the needs of students.
Truly, as Meyers told the Wildcat, the cultural and geographical transition to the university environment for Native American students is one that exposes the fissures in the system. The university needs to find ways to fund mentoring and other support functions to prevent the sense of isolation that faces Native American and other students on this large campus. If, as a community, we ought celebrate diversity, then we ought also place the retention and graduation at the top of our financial priorities.
A project like the underground Integrated Learning Facility, is merely a multimillion dollar bandage on a larger problem. The project, for example, does not inherently address the cultural, economic and geographic transitions that face so many student, and which are ignored by those students who simply slip into the patterns of the university without a hitch. By reassessing the UA's retention and graduation problem and finding new and enriching programs for all students, the entire community will develop and grow in a way that reflects the needs of the state and nation at large.