Roth Discusses Access to Higher Education at the White House

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President Roth joined another university-led initiative on Thursday, when he attended a summit at the White House to promote greater accessibility to higher education. Along with 100 other universities and 40 non-profit groups, Roth discussed Wesleyan’s commitment to increase access to the university among historically underrepresented minorities.

“At the summit, I learned that ninety percent of low-income people who get their B.A. will move out of poverty,” said Roth. “Access to education truly has an effect on inequality.”

Wesleyan’s commitments are focused on low-income and first generation students, STEM minority students, and veterans. Most of these plans, some vaguer than others, are focused on enrolling students from these groups, but there is not much commitment to providing support for them once they are at Wesleyan (more about that here). Here is each proposal, broken down, with a lengthier discussion afterward:

1. Enroll more QuestBridge scholars in the coming years

QuestBridge is a scholarship program that matches high-achieving, low-income students with partner universities. Wesleyan pledges to bring in more QuestBridge scholars in the coming years, “more than doubling its earlier numbers.” There are approximately 30 Quest Scholars enrolled at Wesleyan every year, so an increase in Quest Scholars would mean more than 120 total.

2. “Set targets” to increase the number of first generation students on campus

How will these targets be set? We got rid of need-blind (you can be the judge of how ironic it is that Roth gave this talk in the first place), so I wonder how more precedence can be given to first generation students who are likelier low-income. Granted, enrolling more QuestBridge scholars will probably bring in more first generation students.

3. Retain students from under-represented groups in STEM fields

There’s been a lot of talk about minorities in STEM at Wes, from the Women in STEM event in October to the formation of a new student group for underrepresented minorities in STEM, led by LaNell Williams ’15. However, this part of the proposal was especially vague:

Wesleyan has revamped the teaching of introductory biology so as to retain more students from under-represented groups, and they will be applying the same principles and techniques in other sciences with the same goal in mind. In the life sciences, Wesleyan has seen improvements in learning for all students, with those from under-represented groups improving the most.

What exactly are these revamped teaching methods? According to Biology Professor Michael Weir, who headed the change:

Previously students were taught introductory biology in one large class with three lectures each week. The enrollment in the class was about 200 or more, and student grades were largely based on several exams.  Students in groups underrepresented in the sciences withdrew from this class at significantly higher rates than majority students. This led us to change the design of the class and as a result our withdrawal rates for all students have reduced significantly, and students in underrepresented groups now withdraw at the same rates as majority students.

In the new model, five or six faculty members each teach classes of 40 to 50 students. On Mondays and Wednesdays we have 50-minute lectures and on Fridays the classes split into groups of 20 to 25 that meet at different times and engage in Problem-Based Learning; in groups of 3-5, students work on research-based problems and the faculty member and two or three teaching assistants circulate among the groups to discuss the problems. This means that student actively engage in working with concepts and all students talk with their professor and the teaching assistants every week

Wesleyan is also developing a new summer bridge program for under-represented groups in STEM fields.

4. Raising funds to offer students paid internships and research

This is in order to “improve [students’] abilities to translate their liberal arts education into productive work after graduation.” I guess this is useful for everyone. With funded research internships, the hope is that minority students will go on to do graduate work, especially in the sciences.

5. Partner with the Posse Foundation to recruit veterans to Wesleyan

Roth just met the veterans who will join the Class of 2018 next fall.

From his blog:

The Posse Foundation’s philosophy is to provide educational opportunities to students from under-represented groups who support and inspire one another in strong cohorts. The 10 Early Decision students have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and here in the United States. They have this in common: a strong desire to support one another as they pursue a broad, engaged liberal education at Wesleyan. Having already gone through a rigorous selection process, they seemed very much ready to join our campus community. I know they will make important contributions to it as they interact with students, faculty and staff.

Wesleyan now plans to accept 10 veterans every year through Posse.

6. Commitment to raise tuition in sync with inflation

In 2012, Roth committed to raise tuition in sync with inflation and have a more ‘sustainable’ financial model for Wesleyan. If we continued to increase our tuition by 4.5% annually, our rate of increase from 2011-2012 to 2012-2013, the cost of tuition would jump over $20,000 over the next 10 years from $45,358 in 2012-2013 to $67,406 in 2022-2023.

However, for this academic year, the Board of Trustees voted to increase tuition and residential comprehensive fees by 2.9 percent, a rise equal to the rate of inflation, bringing this year’s tuition to $46,674.

 

You can check out the full proposal here and look at what other universities are doing. Not surprisingly, this event garnered some debate over need-blind and socioeconomic demographics on the Wesleyan Facebook page. While the debate over need-blind is important to the access to higher education discussion, one really important part that’s been neglected by the administration is the experience of minority students once they are at Wesleyan.

A commitment to retaining minorities in the STEM field is a positive step, and has shown some improvements already. In the privilege/policy student discussion from last semester regarding class, however, it was clear that there were far-reaching institutional and campus culture problems. Potential administrative solutions included pairing academic or financial mentors with low-income students and educating professors about affordability of class materials.

Roth also alluded to Wesleyan’s partnership with the Middletown community in increasing college readiness among younger students:

Universities should work closely with their local school districts. We do a lot (at Wesleyan), working with McDonough, with Green Street. Wesleyan has lots and lots of people, faculty, students and staff, working with local schools…I’m wondering whether we couldn’t better coordinate our efforts to really have an impact on college readiness right in this area.

These commitments are positive and I’m glad it’s something that President Roth is thinking about. However, there’s still work to be done on campus, and I hope our discussions can shift toward constructing more solid integrative programs within Wesleyan.

  • Diedrick Pastale

    Deep and tragic irony that Roth Man is talking higher ed accessibility at the White House. This man has betrayed even the very illusion of educational justice and is now smiling for the cameras. Sad and sick.

  • Ross ’15

    It’s good to see that there will be some initiatives to address some of these problems and I really do hope that they follow through, I hope that these programs benefit people as much as they can. But ultimately they’ll be helping a relatively small group of individuals. Rather disgustingly, Roth continues to jet-set, stoke his ego at the White House or wherever, and collect a six figure salary. I don’t think he sees any contradiction there, even when he talks about “access” and whatever else he talks about–that, to me, is deeply cynical. From his and other administrators’ actions, we can see what the real priorities of this institution are.

    We’re in a university (system) that is based on exclusion. Why does it materially benefit us to go here? Because (in the eyes of people that *matter*) that certificate shows that we’re better than other people and the networking we’re able to do has the potential to put us in higher social circles. It’s all about moving up the ladder (or at least staying high enough up on the ladder), not getting rid of the ladder, not taking down the top and bottom rungs off the ladder all together. I realize how difficult that would be to attempt…the point is, even while we take care of ourselves as we must in the meantime, can we at least TRY to do something different??? Can we at least stop having these excessive fundraisers while others pick out of trashcans to eat just blocks away? Can we stop acting like giving millions to the COE helps the environment while we build a new natural gas plant, or that it’s OK to accept millions for a new track while also cutting need blind, or that giving millions to a private university helps education while public schools are being shut by the score across the country and becoming more and more militarized when they’re not shut down? Can we stop fooling ourselves that this is even really about one single policy or set of policy proposals at Wesleyan, and address the deeper issues that have sat mostly silently during all of this? I think that it’s very uncomfortable to go to such a rich school in a time of such great inequality, to live up in the all-but-gated campus up on the hill in the middle of a somewhat poor town in the middle of the most economically unequal state in a very unequal country. So sorry if this seems like a rant to those of you who read and comment on Wesleying who require strict logic and convincing statistics before you don’t dismiss a comment out of hand. But I can’t stand this elitist crap where everyone’s trying to justify the absurd.

    This new set of changes is a band aid. Some of them are important and significant, and some will be particularly important to the people who might (and very much deserve to) benefit from them. And that is encouraging. But there are some much deeper sicknesses here that remain very much unaddressed.

    So, I end this overly emotional rant with some Billy Bragg lyrics that I feel are relevant:

    What happens when the markets drop,

    If the numbers really don’t add up?

    Everyone seeks the safe haven.

    And as they contemplate their ruin,

    The self-proclaimed smartest people in the room

    Are trying very hard not to sound craven

    But what if there’s nothing, no pot of gold to find?

    Only the blind leading the blind.

    No one knows nothing anymore

    Nobody really knows the score

    Seems nobody knows anything

    Let’s break it down and start again

    Let’s stop pretending

    We can manage our way out of here.

    Let’s stop defending the indefensible.

    Let’s stop relying on

    The lecturing of the experts

    Whose spin just makes our plight incomprehensible.

    High up on a mountain top, somebody with a skinhead crop

    Is thinking deep thoughts for us all.

    Serenity is all around, but if you listen you can hear the sound

    Of one head being banged against the wall.

    • alum

      “Roth continues to jet-set, stoke his ego at the White House or wherever, and collect a six figure salary.”

      His salary is the going rate for a university president. University presidents’ jobs aren’t about social change or social justice; they’re about keeping a school financially healthy and academically sound. Sorry to disappoint you.

      “We’re in a university (system) that is based on exclusion. Why does it materially benefit us to go here? Because (in the eyes of people that *matter*) that certificate shows that we’re better than other people and the networking we’re able to do has the potential to put us in higher social circles. It’s all about moving up the ladder (or at least staying high enough up on the ladder), not getting rid of the ladder, not taking down the top and bottom rungs off the ladder all together. I realize how difficult that would be to attempt…the point is, even while we take care of ourselves as we must in the meantime, can we at least TRY to do something different???”

      Like what?

      “Can we at least stop having these excessive fundraisers while others pick out of trashcans to eat just blocks away? Can we stop acting like giving millions to the COE helps the environment while we build a new natural gas plant, or that it’s OK to accept millions for a new track while also cutting need blind, or that giving millions to a private university helps education while public schools are being shut by the score across the country and becoming more and more militarized when they’re not shut down?”

      So Wesleyan should stop raising millions of dollars for financial aid? The campaign is raising over $200 million in scholarships. I don’t see the problem here. It’s not Wesleyan’s job to solve homelessness. Its job is to produce graduates who will figure out how to solve homelessness. The track was funded entirely by alumni who donated specifically for the track. Nonstarter argument. So you’re saying private schools shouldn’t exist? Because they couldn’t without donations. Natural gas plant is cheaper to run, so Wes can afford more financial aid.

      “Can we stop fooling ourselves that this is even really about one single policy or set of policy proposals at Wesleyan, and address the deeper issues that have sat mostly silently during all of this? I think that it’s very uncomfortable to go to such a rich school in a time of such great inequality, to live up in the all-but-gated campus up on the hill in the middle of a somewhat poor town in the middle of the most economically unequal state in a very unequal country.”

      Again, no one forced you to come here.

      “So sorry if this seems like a rant to those of you who read and comment on Wesleying who require strict logic and convincing statistics before you don’t dismiss a comment out of hand. But I can’t stand this elitist crap where everyone’s trying to justify the absurd.”

      Seems like you have a problem with the system, not Wesleyan.