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Million-Dollar Purdue Initiative Seeks Greater Diversity On Campus

courtesy Purdue University

By many accounts, Purdue doesn’t compare well with its Big 10 peers when it comes to underrepresented minority student enrollment and success. During the Spring 2015 semester, African American, Pacific Islander, Native American, Hispanic and multi-racial students made up only 11.5-percent of the school’s student body.

According to census data, those same groups, minus those who identify as multi-racial, comprise more than 18-percent of the state’s total population.

Mark Smith, the Dean of the university’s graduate school, says that’s why the school is launching a new, $1 million initiative that aims to improve diversity on campus:

“In some cases we’re average or below average,” he says. “Other schools are investing more and doing other things. Sometimes there are advantages based on location, but that’s not an excuse because there are a lot of schools that are in similar situations that we’re in. So we do need to better and we think we can do better and this initiative is to help us to do better.”

The initiative, called the Diversity Transformation Award, will fund ideas—submitted by the Purdue community – with costs of up to $150,000.  Smith, who’s also a member of the school’s diversity and inclusion leadership team, says the money will be split among five-to-eight of those proposals.

The outcomes and objectives of the proposals have been left intentionally vague. The only rule is the proposals involve measurable goals that increase the recruitment, enrollment, retention and success of underrepresented faculty and staff. For Purdue’s purposes, that not only means racial minorities but first-generation college students and people with disabilities.

Smith says ideas could involve anything from forging partnerships with high schools or other universities to structures for creating more inclusive, welcoming campus environments through mentorship and community programs. The only requirement is for proposals to have measurable goals for advancing campus diversity.

The initiative is led by the Office of the Provost.

Provost Deba Dutta couldn’t be reached for comment, but in a release he says “Our country is the most pluralistic and multicultural nation in the world... Purdue seeks to be a leader in mirror the diversity of our nation.”

The school has a way to go, even in mirroring diversity in the Big 10 Conference. Purdue ‘s 11.5-percent is a similar percentage of underrepresented minorities as Ohio State Columbus and Indiana University Bloomington, but the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has around 15-percent, and eastern schools such as Rutgers and Maryland easily reach the 20-percent mark.

Smith says more diversity would benefit every student on campus, not just minorities:

“The current majority population will be the minority population by the year 2050,” Smith says. “In other words, the collective minority now will be in the majority, which means that the workforce is going to look a lot different. So we want to prepare our students to function in that multi-cultural workforce.”

The first round of proposals is due in mid-October, and the school expects to choose the winning proposals around Thanksgiving.