Structured for Success: The Multicultural Affairs Office Weaves Tools for Empowering Minority Students into the Fabric of the Wake Forest University Community

By Forde, Dana | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, October 16, 2008 | Go to article overview

Structured for Success: The Multicultural Affairs Office Weaves Tools for Empowering Minority Students into the Fabric of the Wake Forest University Community


Forde, Dana, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

When North Carolina native Evan Raleigh was in search of the perfect college, he had three things in mind.

"The three most important factors in my college search were the strength of the school's academic reputation, the size of the school, and the school's location and proximity to home" says Raleigh, 21, who found all three in the form of Wake Forest University.

But Raleigh, who received a full academic scholarship to study at Wake Forest, credits the university's Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) for his current success in the classroom.

Minority students like Raleigh represent the kind of enrollment results that officials at Wake Forest have fought to see.

In 1985, the OMA took a primary role in Black student recruitment and admissions in collaboration with the admissions office by creating merit-based financial aid awards and scholarships that specifically targeted Black students. However, in 1999, tuition increases and new admissions and recruitment policies that discouraged race-based financial awards were set in place, resulting in a Black student enrollment drop from a high of 337 students in 1998 to a low of 244 students in 2004.

The OMA has since transformed its role and has linked with other university offices--including the admissions and financial aid departments--to aggressively recruit and retain students of color. The results have been heartening, and Black student enrollment continues to show steady increases, officials say.

Additionally, the OMA has helped Wake Forest boast one of the highest graduation rates of Black students in the country. For example, records provided by the university indicate that four-, five- and six-year graduation rates for Black female students in 2006 were 97 percent. In that same year, the four-year graduation rate for Black male students was 71.4 percent and the five- and six-year graduation rates were 91.7 percent.

School officials note that OMA's success in recruiting and retaining minority students is, in part, because their commitment is more than just a nine-to-five operation.

"The OMA staff at Wake Forest University operates as gatekeepers within the university system because we weave our operational goals into the fabric of the campus community in order to provide an infrastructure that empowers students of color for personal, academic and professional success" says Dr. Barbee M. Oakes, the director of the OMA at Wake Forest who has been a member of the OMA team since 1995. "Here in the university community we let students know that they matter from day one to the day of graduation, and we help them navigate the journey of higher education. …

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