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Former Swingshift College graduates Glenda Jackson and Jesus Gonzales with former IUN professor Ruth Needleman

Indiana University Northwest is broken, so fix it

Contributed By:The 411 News

IUN Chancellor Lowe responds to criticism on the low rates of African-American achievement

Pointing fingers came to Indiana University Northwest’s own turf to declare that the institution is failing to educate its African-American and Hispanic students, especially black males and it is not doing anything to reverse the trends of low graduation rates and low enrollment numbers.

Some of those pointing fingers were university faculty.

They didn’t march in protest or carry signs. In fact, IUN Chancellor William Lowe made the welcome statement at the Wednesday, April 18 public hearing “Do Black Minds Matter in Indiana,” hosted by Democratic Party members of the Indiana legislature’s Black Caucus.

State Representative Charlie Brown calls it a crisis in public education, “a crisis that is growing at Indiana state colleges and universities in regard to low success rates among African Americans and particularly African American males.”

“It’s not just here, it’s happening across the nation, so we’re tackling the problem at home,” said Rep. Vernon Smith, a faculty member at IUN.

Indiana is struggling to reach all its students, said IUN faculty member Mark McPhail, pointing to a U.S. News & World Report study ranking the state 46th in the nation in education.

McPhail is also a member of the Gary Commission on the Social Status of Black Males that published its own report examining conditions in Indiana that affect African-Americans success in higher education.

In the GCSSBM report, Indiana’s formula to base public schools funding on performance is a problem and doesn’t help the poorest students. The state awards more funding to school corporations where elementary and secondary schools have high scores on state achievement tests. Those kinds of results are not found in a majority African-American school district like Gary’s.

McPhail said Ball State is doing the best with both black and white students, better than the flagship campuses of both Purdue and Indiana universities.

Enrollment, retention, and graduation numbers from the Indiana Commission on Higher Education showed that at regional campuses of the big universities, more than 4 out of five African-American college students fail to graduate. That’s a 20% graduation for blacks. For Indiana’s white college students, the graduation rate is above the national percentage rate of 40% and is rising.

“Diversity is fine at IU Northwest with events and programming,” McPhail said, “but when it came to core issues of diversity like student retention and graduation, there are serious concerns.” And he added, “There isn’t a strategy to address those concerns.”

Chancellor Lowe didn’t comment during the forum and later released a statement complimenting the legislators and the public for participating in the forum.

“We are very familiar with the data for degree completion for African American students, which form the basis for our improvement strategies,” Chancellor Lowe wrote. “Retaining IU Northwest students through to degree completion is our campus’s major academic and enrollment challenge, with the greatest disparity among African-American students, reflecting the picture nationally.”

The chancellor said a decline in the population of Northwest Indiana shows up in the numbers of high school graduates and enrollments at IU Northwest. And, after high school many college eligible students who are African-American have high financial need and because of the abundance of jobs, choose to go to work.

Recent IU enrollment data show improvement, Chancellor Lowe said. “There are fewer African American students enrolled, but their numbers are still proportionate to the African-American population of the region, 18 percent. The rates of applications and acceptances of African-American students have increased during the past several years.”

African-American students show the largest improvement in both retention, up 6.5 percent and graduation within six years, up 9.1 percent, among all IU Northwest students, the chancellor said.

Responding to comments from the public that IUN needs to hire more African-American faculty, the chancellor said diversity among faculty and staff continues to increase. Because of declining enrollment over the past several years, 18 faculty positions were cut. The number of African-American faculty members went from 19 to fifteen in the last 5 years.

Offering a solution were former IUN professor Ruth Needleman and two graduates – Glenda Jackson and Jesus Gonzales – from IUN’s “Swingshift College.” Needleman helped create the program targeted at adult steel mill workers whose work scheduling was around the clock. Classroom sessions were videotaped and copies were made so students didn’t have to miss classes because of work hours. A morning session and evening session of each class was held. Support systems were set up in textbook reading and how to take notes.

“We had a 75-80% percent graduation rate among people of color in Swingshift College,” Gonzales said. “IUN needs to bring it back,” said Jackson.

Needleman said a program like Swingshift College with support services could reverse the decline in African-American achievement at the university.

The full 2-hour public hearing will air on Gary’s Cable Access Channel.

Former Swingshift College graduates Glenda Jackson and Jesus Gonzales with former IUN professor Ruth Needleman

Story Posted:04/22/2018

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