Slash a graduation rate gap between students of color and their white classmates. Boost recruitment of underrepresented students and faculty. Train students and employees to appreciate diversity and be culturally competent.

Those are among the University of Minnesota's aggressive five-year diversity goals, which were discussed by the Board of Regents on Thursday. Administrators and regents also examined ongoing initiatives they hope will propel the university to meet these targets by 2025.

"Robust efforts are in place across the university on every campus to ensure that our education is accessible and to recruit and attract students that will shape a student body that reflects the rich diversity of our state," said U Provost Rachel Croson.

University leaders hope to cut graduation rate disparities in half at the five campuses. Systemwide, students of color are lagging 6% behind white students in four-year graduation rates and 5% behind in six-year graduation rates.

At the Twin Cities campus, the four-year and six-year graduation rate gaps are 8% and 3.5%, respectively. The gaps are much larger at Crookston, with the four-year rate for students of color 22% lower and the six-year rate 33% lower.

Efforts are underway at each campus to keep students of color on track for graduation.

The Rochester campus has paired students with "success coaches" who advise them for four years, providing academic, career and personal support. At the Morris campus, a Native American Student Success Program connects students with professional academic coaching, exclusive campus job opportunities and cultural workshops and activities.

Last fall, the Twin Cities campus launched the Gopher Equity Project, an online education module about diversity, equity and inclusion available to all undergraduates and required for incoming first-year students. More than 10,000 students took the training.

"This effort is one step in creating a positive campus climate for all students," said Bob McMaster, the U's vice provost and dean of undergraduate education.

Jael Kerandi, student representative to the Board of Regents, urged administrators to require a similar training for faculty so classrooms are "free of bias and prejudice."

"Those interactions actually hold a really strong place in the retention of our students," she said.

Croson responded that leaders are considering diversity training for faculty and staff, which could be mandatory. About 2,000 university employees participate in cultural competency and diversity trainings each year. Administrators hope to increase the number of employees trained annually to 4,000 by 2025.

The university is also seeking to increase the number of students and faculty of color at its five campuses year over year. Students of color made up 27% of this year's freshman class at the Twin Cities campus, which McMaster said was in line with Minnesota high school graduate demographics.

Over the past five years, though, the university's recruitment of first-generation and low-income college students has fallen slightly. First-generation students made up 27% of the U's systemwide undergraduate population last fall, down from 30% five years ago.

Students who are eligible for Pell Grants — those who have "exceptional" financial need — make up 20% of the overall undergraduate population, down from 23%.

Administrators highlighted the Crookston campus as a success story for first-generation student recruitment. Fifty percent of the school's undergraduates are first-generation students, up from 39% five years ago. The school increased its marketing and communications outreach to first-generation students and was recognized nationally for its efforts.

Regent Thomas Anderson suggested the university work harder to reach prospective students of color through postsecondary enrollment options programs, which allow students to earn college credit while in high school.

Abdulla Ali, another student representative to the regents, encouraged leaders to remove barriers to entry such as standardized test score requirements.

McMaster said the university has extended its "test-optional" approach through fall 2022, allowing prospective students to apply without taking the ACT or SAT. But the university has not decided if the move will be permanent, he said, noting the tests can be an indicator of student success.

Ryan Faircloth • 612-673-4234