Minority Student Recruitment and Retention: Preface

Racial/ethnic minorities are still considered underrepresented populations in most US professions.  The disciplines of speech-language pathology and audiology are no exception.  In 2003, only about 7% of the 110,000 members of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association are members of racial/ethnic minority groups.  Successful entry into the professions of speech-language pathology and audiology requires a journey through higher education, including graduate level study.  That journey, for many racial/ethnic minorities, has been an insurmountable barrier and has limited our ability to increase the diversity of the professions.

The challenges posed by the participation of racial/ethnic minorities in higher education have yet to be overcome.  Relative to their demographic, these students have historically been underrepresented at the collegiate level.  The projected gap in these numbers continues to grow.

Research shows that a racially and ethnically diverse university student body has far-ranging and significant benefits for all students, non-minorities and minorities alike.  Students learn more in a diverse environment, and leave school better prepared to actively participate in a pluralistic society.  Students with diverse life experiences have been found to have and maintain more cross-racial interactions five years after leaving college.  We need to allow students to experience diversity so that students from the dominant culture recognize that they do not necessarily represent the norm, but merely a segment of US culture.

Experience with diverse populations in formal education definitely has its benefits, but providing that experience to all students presents a significant challenge.  Our current educational systems are fraught with inequity at a number of levels; not all students receive even basic benefits.  The assumptions of a K-12 education are not met for many students, especially racial/ethnic minorities, and not all students have access to educational programs that will support and allow for successful matriculation through and beyond high school.

The advantages of diversity on college and university campuses have been documented and debated, but there is no denying the demographic changes our country is experiencing.  That these changes will impact the overall economic future of our society is not debatable.  A trained workforce has been the hallmark of our country's success for some time and we've experienced significant economic gains as a result of it.  As the makeup of the population with potential to enter the workforce changes, it is imperative that necessary training and education be provided. If we continue with the status quo, we run the risk of having exclusionary campuses and further bifurcating the nation's economy.  Those with access and advantage will continue to have it, but the have-nots will also continue- not having.

The financial cost of an education, especially higher education, is prohibitive for a large number of racial/ethnic minorities.  But the total cost is measured in more than just dollars. Those students able to afford an education or find financial support may be unaware of the range of career options available, may not meet stringent admission requirements (especially those based on standardized test results), may encounter insensitive faculty and/or an uninviting campus environment, and deal with feelings of isolation and alienation.

US demographic projections indicate that by the year 2020, one third of the population will consist of racial/ethnic minority groups.  Diversity of this magnitude will require an increased sensitivity on the part of academic programs to the needs of minority students, will mandate pedagogy that reflects a variety of experiences, and must implement learning styles most beneficial to students from diverse groups.

Many universities have attempted to meet the challenge of increased diversity head on, but with anti-affirmative action legislation and efforts to curb special programming targeting minority students, more and more of our potential workforce will not obtain appropriate training.

Though significant efforts have been made to establish equity in our educational system, overall we haven't found much success.  Those for whom the system was built are far more successful in matriculating through that system than those who have attempted to assimilate into it.  Generally, our efforts to develop parallel systems or to integrate new populations into pre-existing systems have met with mixed results, at best.  A guiding principle has been that access is enough .  But access, a huge barrier in and of itself, is not the only factor to consider in relation to successful matriculation of students through a given program.  Each institution must examine its particular situation and develop unique strategies and practices to aid students.  One framework does not fit all. 

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has provided resources and technical assistance to academic programs in Human Communication Sciences and Disorders, demonstrating a commitment to assist efforts to recruit and retain racial/ethnic minorities.  One of the most helpful resources ASHA has been able to provide is descriptions of programs that have had some success attracting underrepresented populations, and sharing that information with ASHA members. 

To ensure that ASHA's disciplines reap the benefits of a diverse membership and that we are well-positioned to provide appropriate services to all members of society, it is imperative that we take action and develop any tools that will help us accomplish these goals.  In 2001, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association established a three-year Focused Initiative on Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations.  Between 2001 and 2003, two outcomes were identified as targets. One of those outcomes was an increase in the number of ASHA members from racial/ethnic minority populations. Both long-term and short-term strategies have been initiated to achieve this goal.

Among the long-term strategies was the compilation of successful recruitment, retention, and career transition strategies for increasing the numbers of racial/ethnic minorities in graduate and professional programs, and the dissemination of this information to Communication Sciences and Disorders programs.

The resulting documents include a literature review that describes recruitment, retention and career transition practices currently in use in professions other than Communication Sciences and Disorders, as well as a compendium of descriptions of a number of programs in place in Communication Sciences and Disorders academic programs.  The strategies and practices highlighted may be relevant to any number of academic programs in our professions.  It is our hope that administrators and faculty responsible for recruitment and retention in CSD programs will identify opportunities to replicate these strategies.  It is likely that not all of the programs as described will be replicable in any given academic institution, and that in rare cases, none of the programs would work at a particular academic institution.  As previously stated, one framework does not fit all.  However, it is likely that some key elements of the programs will be viable and could be adapted for any given institution. 

It is recommended that an institution review the descriptions provided, and calculate the resources required for implementation of compatible strategies.  The size of a program, the number of faculty, the availability of financial support, research or other requirements that may absorb faculty time, available externship sites, and proximity to communities of culturally and linguistically diverse populations, may all have a significant effect on successful replication of any of the strategies described.  It is advisable that every effort be made to enlist the support of the majority of a department prior to implementing any of the strategies.  The rationale for implementing the strategies should include some projection of the program's return on their investment.

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