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FSU Named Among Top Schools for Serving Black Students

September 27, 2018

FITCHBURG -- A report out Wednesday ranks Fitchburg State University among the best public institutions of higher learning in the nation for equity for black students.

President Richard Lapidus said the ranking reflects several factors, including a wide-ranging effort to diversify the campus and provide individualized support to students after classes begin.

“The effort really was to try to increase diversity broadly across the campus, and start to move to a state where the campus population started to mirror the region,” he said. “While we’re not there yet, we’re definitely moving in the right direction.”

The report released by the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center assigned 506 public, four-year institutions of higher learning an “equity index” based on how the colleges and universities performed in four key areas.

The report did not study historically black colleges or universities, tribal colleges, military academies, graduate schools or community colleges.

It gauged the extent to which the black students’ share of enrollment matches the demographic breakdown statewide, whether the school enrolls the same proportion of black men and woman of all races and ethnicities who attend college nationwide, whether the six-year graduation rate for black students matches the school’s six-year graduation rate overall, and the ratio of full-time black undergraduate students to full-time black faculty members.

Massachusetts was named the top state in the nation in equity for black students enrolled in public universities and colleges. The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts landed in a three-way tie for the highest possible score of a 3.5.

FSU tied with Framingham State University and the UMass Boston as having the second-highest “equity index” in the state, at 3.25.

At FSU, the 342 black students who were enrolled in 2016 made up 9.7 percent of the undergraduate student body, compared to 9 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds in the state, according to the study.

The university’s graduation rate for black students is 55.6 percent, compared to 53.6 percent for the school overall.

According to Lapidus, the college uses tailored the strategies including the “purposeful targeting of high schools” to find and recruit more minority students.

“Rather than waiting for students to apply to us were being much more proactive in reaching out to them,” he said. “We’re looking to aggressive reach out to all studs but in part some of the underrepresented groups that have been missed.”

Where FSU is lacking is in the number of professors who are minorities, said Anthony Berry, an exercise and sports science major who serves as president of the campus’ Black Student Union, which has a membership of about 90 students.

“As a whole there’s basically all white professors,” he said. “There’s a couple outliers, but for the most part, with my major and discipline, there’s only white professors.”

Berry’s observation was supported by findings of the study University of Southern California study out Wednesday, which found that for every black full-time faculty member employed in 2016 there were 33 full-time black students enrolled -- a “C” grade.

According to the report, in 2016 FSU employed 10 full-time faculty who are black, of over 200 total full-time faculty members.

Berry said a diverse student body creates a more comfortable learning environment, a more fun campus environment and encourages “interchange” between students of different backgrounds.

He believes FSU’s low number of black full-time faculty members is partially attributable to higher salaries available to professors at private universities and colleges.

Berry wasn’t surprised that FSU cracked the top 10 schools with equity for black students, given the “sheer size of minorities in Massachusetts and New England” and the implementation of campus programs to welcome and support minority students and students who are the first in their families to go to college.

He said the Black Student Union will continue advocating for increased enrollment of students of color at FSU, whose daytime student population was about 71 percent white in 2016.

“We try to speak on a general level for all minorities so we can feel more represented to the administration,” he said. “We’ve been very vocal, from the beginning about getting more studs of color into the school.”

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