Recruiting for Diverse Graduate Programs: Examples from the Field

RJ Nichol
Jun 19, 2019

Most institutions of higher education see attracting diverse applicants as an important goal. While diversity recruiting is a challenge at all levels, graduate programs must contend with smaller pools of eligible students to draw upon than their undergraduate counterparts. Still, efforts to increase diversity have had some impact: Between 2006 and 2016, the percentages of Hispanics/Latinos, Black/African Americans, Asians/Pacific Islanders and American Indian/Alaska Natives enrolled in graduate school increased.

So, what’s working? Here are some examples from successful institutions.

Implementing holistic application review

Research by the Council for Graduate Schools found that holistic review is widely viewed as a useful strategy for improving diversity in higher education. According to the report, “Holistic review processes are most likely to be successful when well-aligned with a graduate institution’s mission and with the goals of particular master’s, doctoral and professional graduate programs. Tools that allow schools to evaluate the full range of a student’s experience and capabilities as well as academic credentials often result in more diverse classes.”

Robert Ruiz, Liaison’s vice president of strategic enrollment, explored multiple holistic application review systems during his admission and enrollment management career. In his 10 years as the Director of Admission at the University of Michigan Medical School, he found that using some of these techniques allowed the university “to successfully create multiple instances for the student to demonstrate his or her talents, competencies and capabilities, as compared to the traditional one, two or three person-on-person interviews.”

“As we know relative to research, the more instances you can create, the more likely you are to get better data and find best-fit students,“ Ruiz said. “Taking this approach put us in a position to make more thoughtful, deeper decisions.”

Focusing outreach to target diverse students

Matt Cipriano, associate director of enrollment and education operations at Weill Cornell Medicine, said that when the institution started using BioMedCAS™ for its Ph.D. program, the school saw a 10% diversity improvement — a nice boost that reflected many of the diversity recruiting efforts in place.

“We focus many of our efforts where there are underrepresented populations — southern California, Texas, Florida, Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” Cipriano said. Weill Cornell also participates in a guided tour through the University of Puerto Rico system and recruits heavily at events targeting minority students interested in biomedical fields, such as the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) and Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) conferences.

Cipriano is not alone in his focus on building community with underrepresented populations. In a recent webinar, Vice Chair for the American Society of Engineering Education’s Diversity Committee Rebecca Bates, Ph.D. emphasized building a sense of community on campus. “We need to develop relationships with underrepresented students where we’re going to where they are, inviting them to come see us and creating a space where they feel welcome,” she said.

Partnering with organizations that extend reach

Developing partnerships can be an effective way to connect with underrepresented students. Working with groups that foster diversity in specific disciplines, such as the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Women Who Code or minority physician organizations, can connect institutions with diverse students interested in the specific programs they offer. As another example, taking advantage of a Centralized Application Service (CAS™) through an association can help institutions connect with students outside of their typical audience, increasing various types of diversity.

Chad Oppelt, assistant director of graduate, extended and online admissions for the College of St. Scholastica said since implementing a CAS, diversity at the College has gone up, both in terms of culture and gender. “As a result of implementing NursingCAS™, our minority and male acceptances to nursing programs increased by 10%. And our quality — average GPAs and average GRE scores across all CAS programs — has gone up, too.”

Learn more about expanding your reach to recruit more underrepresented students by downloading our ebook Building a Better More Diverse Class.

RJ Nichol

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Over the last three decades, Liaison has helped over 40,000 programs on more than 1,200 campuses more effectively manage admissions through its Centralized Application Service (CAS™) technology and complementary application processing and support services. The higher education technology leader supports its partner institutions’ total enrollment goals by pairing CAS with its Enrollment Marketing (EM) platform as well as the recently acquired TargetX (CRM) and advanced analytics software Othot.