Minnesota’s demographic changes are on display in many places this season. But they are especially evident on the cozy campus of Augsburg College, tucked beside the University of Minnesota, Interstate 94 and the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood in Minneapolis. There, the share of students of color in this fall’s entering class has reached 45 percent.
That’s a record among Minnesota’s private four-year colleges. But one public state university is keeping pace. Metropolitan State University announced Tuesday that 46 percent of its new students this fall are nonwhite. And it’s a good bet that nearly every other college campus in the state is seeing increasing racial and ethnic diversity in its student body.
That stands to reason. Minnesota itself is rapidly diversifying. As recently as 1990, the U.S. Census found that 6.3 percent of the state’s then-4.4 million people were nonwhite. The Wilder Foundation’s Minnesota Compass projects that by 2020, people of color will comprise 20 percent of a population that will approach 6 million. In much of the state, if it were not for the arrival of nonwhite people, total population numbers would be dropping.
But increasing student diversity on college campuses involves more than waiting for more nonwhite Minnesotans to enroll. As Augsburg College is demonstrating, academic institutions can do much to adapt their own policies and practices to educate what previously has been an underserved share of the state’s population.
Augsburg has sought to identify and reduce barriers to college success that often impede students of color, President Paul Pribbenow recently told the Star Tribune Editorial Board. The college’s aim is not only to enroll a larger share of nonwhite students, but also to see them through to graduation.
Among Augsburg’s tactics: Setting aside dedicated housing for homeless students. Offering financial literacy training. Reducing the use of expensive textbooks as required course materials. Adapting classes for more individualized learning. Training faculty and staff members in cultural competencies. Including more nonwhite candidates in hiring pools. Working with the faculty to make standardized tests optional in the admissions process — a change already adopted by Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.
It’s also tapping a growing higher education trend. Increasingly, students are earning credits at more than one institution on the way to a degree. Augsburg is creating a lower-cost path to a bachelor’s degree for students who take lower-division classes at a community college. That’s in keeping with the efforts of a number of Minnesota’s public state universities, where transfer student enrollment is also on the rise. At St. Cloud State University, for example, fully half of last year’s student body arrived on campus having already earned college credits at another institution.
Augsburg calls this work its “equity framework,” and it’s inviting imitation. Earlier this month, it convened a conference of higher educators from more than a dozen Minnesota schools and asked them to pledge to make new efforts to advance equity on their own campuses. Pribbenow says he envisions making racial equity part of Minnesota’s higher education brand. That idea has just won Augsburg a $10,000 initial grant and the opportunity for more from the St. Paul Foundation. Our guess is that more recognition lies ahead.