New Center at UC Davis Aims to Help African American Students Succeed

GSM Partnership to Encourage More MBA Candidates

(Editor’s note:  A version of this story was featured in the newsletter of the Graduate Management Admission Council in January 2016)

What can be done to encourage more underrepresented minorities to consider, prepare for and apply to business school?

Most MBA programs are grappling with the same dilemma: increasing the diversity of underrepresented minorities (URMs) versus the reality of limited numbers of qualified URM applicants. In 2015, the number of GMAT tests taken by Caucasians (non-Hispanics) was 56,078. The number of African-Americans GMAT test takers was 7,019 and Hispanic/Latino Americans GMAT test takers numbered 6,159.

What can be done to encourage more URMs to consider, prepare for and apply to business school?

At the University of California, Davis, a new center opened last October devoted to researching the issues around recruitment and retention of African-American students, improving retention rates and providing resources so that graduate programs figure into their futures.

The first-of-its-kind Center for African Diaspora Student Success Center is headed by Kayton Carter, director of Strategic African American Retention Initiatives. After thorough research of the barriers and challenges for recruiting and retaining undergraduate African-American students, UC Davis is taking a more holistic approach to address students’ needs and offering support throughout their college experience.

Since having a positive undergraduate experience is the essential first step towards pursuing a graduate degree, I wanted to find out more about the research done and the steps being taken to increase the retention rate of African American students at UC Davis and how the Graduate School of Management could get involved.

The UC Davis MBA program is already doing some of the right things to ensure the success of incoming MBA students, including URMs, such as:

  • Offering an extensive orientation program to help all students adapt to our community and feel a part of the school.
  • Offering three sessions of Math Camp, specifically focused on improving quantitative skills.

Producing webinars on “Demystifying the MBA” and “How to Finance Your MBA,” which provides numerous resources and information for prospective students about the value of an MBA and how they can to best position themselves for scholarships.

I recently interviewed Director Carter and Kawami Evans, associate director of the UC Davis Center for African Diaspora Student Success, to learn more about this holistic approach:

Can you tell us about the purpose of the center and the goals for the coming year?

(Carter) The Center for African Diaspora Student Success Center is a space for African and African-American students to engage together in all aspects of life on campus. Specifically we are working to increase the retention, lower attrition and positively impact graduation rates for African diaspora undergraduate students. We have seen an increasingly low graduation rate of African-American students. For the 2010 UC Davis incoming undergraduate class, only 33 percent earned their degree within four years. Current retention rate for African American students is 30 percent and for African American males it is 25 percent. We can’t continue to do things the way we used to and expect a different outcome.

What are some of the primary barriers and strategies for the low graduation rates?

(Carter) The barriers are often related to financial need and/or getting adjusted to campus life. In addition to academic challenges that many incoming freshman face, students struggle with feelings of isolation or hostility, conflicts with other students, and not belonging. These are the areas that the center can help address. It is a place that brings students, faculty and staff together to engage in all aspects of campus life. We will inspire students to develop as leaders, succeed academically and become change agents.

What is the Center doing specifically to impact the low graduation rates and improve retention?

(Evans) To be about the business of retention and catching these students before they fall, we are going to have work collaboratively together with other campus departments. Also leadership will have to start having discussions that they have not had before, and some people are hesitant and concerned that this is not what we have done before.

We absolutely have to consider the academic piece, but we cannot separate the academic experience of our students from the cultural experience of being in a predominantly white institution like UC Davis and the impact that has on our students. With less than 1,000 black students out of 34,000 undergraduates, the center is essential in helping them to navigate, understand and successfully work through different experiences. And that is a resource that they are not getting other places. Other UC campuses have cultural centers, but not centers focused on retention.

What ways can the Graduate School of Management be involved with and leverage the activities of the Center?

(Evans) Our center is currently targeted for the most part toward undergraduate students, but is there an opportunity for graduate collaboration? Absolutely. In fact we have already started to forge some of those relationships, for example with the Graduate Student Association. Recently we hosted a panel with graduate students—from all different disciplines—and had a conversation with them on what does it take to get to the graduate level and to really demystify it from a student perspective on what does it take for an undergraduate student to make it in a graduate program.

Here are two practical items where MBA admissions staff can have an impact on current undergraduate students.

  • First, help them understand how to use the difficulties they are having now with classes (specifically math classes) does not necessarily determine their future potential. They can learn and grow and go on to be highly successful in an MBA or other graduate program.
  • Second, advise them on how to make a graduate degree, MBA degree work financially. These students need scholarships, need more help financially to go on to graduate school.


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