MONMOUTH – The Education Trust ranked Western Oregon University (WOU) first in the nation for the smallest white-Hispanic gap in graduation rates among public colleges and universities. The gap was listed as 5.9 percent in the report released August 9. The report commends WOU’s substantial improvement in graduation rates among the Latino population, stating, “this improvement is the result of deliberate, purposeful work by the university. Western Oregon’s success in improving graduation rates and eliminating gaps can serve as an inspiration.”
Earlier this year, The Education Trust named WOU a top-ten performer in the nation for improvement in graduation rates for underrepresented minority (URM) students and they recognized WOU as a top national university for closing the gap in graduation rates between URM and nonminority students. Graduation rates for URM students at WOU increased 61 percent between 2002 and 2007. The gap between URM and non-URM students has also closed significantly so that all students have same likelihood of graduation from WOU. The university has succeeded in better serving its minority population, while growing the university dramatically, setting all-time enrollment levels. WOU is also one of the most diverse universities in Oregon and has the highest percentage of Latino students in the Oregon University System.
WOU has made it a top priority to reach out to minority populations, particularly Latino students who are the fastest growing ethnic population in Oregon. Over twenty percent of the 2009-10 incoming class of students came from ethnically diverse backgrounds, and that excludes WOU’s large international student population. The university’s mission is to support all students through graduation. WOU has addressed this mission by increasing staff in key academic and cultural support areas and adding more faculty, even in difficult economic times, so that our class sizes can remain in the low twenties. The university’s academic advisers are a critical component to student success and in last two years several have received national honors for Outstanding Academic Advising by the National Academic Advising Association.
Many of these underrepresented minority students are also first-generation students, meaning they are the first in their families to attend college. WOU has carved a niche for itself in supporting first-generation students, with programs such as the Student Enrichment Program (supporting first-gen students through their college career) and the Western Tuition Promise (guaranteeing freshman the same tuition rate for four years). According to David McDonald, Associate Provost, “WOU’s national recognition by the Education Trust is an affirmation of the hard work and commitment by an outstanding faculty who truly places the educational needs of their students first. The many innovative and nationally recognized support programs such as Academic Advising, the Writing Center, and the Student Enrichment Program have an incredibly profound and positive impact on all our students.”
The university’s success in recruiting, retaining and graduating students from diverse backgrounds starts in admission and outreach and continues all the way to graduation. The people of Western Oregon University work hard to make the transition for students as seamless as possible. This is done through a variety of programs such as Preview Days where prospective students and their families tour campus, meet with faculty, learn about academic programs and even available extra-curricular activities. There are also on-site admissions events scheduled each year in which admissions staff visit high schools and review admissions applications and provide students with on-the-spot admissions decisions. WOU hosts Student Orientation Advising and Registration events in the summer for admitted students prior to their official arrival on campus so they can select classes, meet with faculty and take necessary placement tests. WOU even boasts one of the country’s longest and most thorough student orientation programs called New Student Week, which last the full week prior to the start of fall term. Students make friends, get acclimated to campus and learn about campus resources during this week.
McDonald added, “Our progress as noted by the Education Trust is a continued effort to improve our university. It is no accident that as the campus has become more diverse our students are becoming more successful. This important national recognition will help us to continue to sharpen our focus even more so that we will continue to improve and serve our students. We have so many exciting new opportunities for students including a new LEED’s Platinum level residence hall and a new LEED’s Gold level Health and Wellness Center opening next year, I can hardly wait to see how much better our performance will be.”
These rankings are comprised of public institutions because, according to The Educational Trust, two-thirds of minority students attend a public institution of higher education. The Education Trust promotes high academic achievement for all students at all levels—pre-kindergarten through college. Our goal is to close the gaps in opportunity and achievement that consign far too many young people—especially those from low-income families or who are black, Latino, or American Indian—to lives on the margins of the American mainstream.
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Director of Admissions