In 1999, the University of Wisconsin-Madison implemented Plan 2008 to "enhance campus diversity" by recruiting and retaining "domestic 'targeted' minority students, faculty, and staff." According to the university, "targeted minority means Black, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Southeast Asian (Laotian, Vietnamese, or Cambodian origin), or Hispanic." The impetus for Plan 2008 came with the prediction that by 2050 the U.S. population will be less than 50 percent white, and the acknowledgment that UW students must be prepared to work and live in a diverse world.
Plan 2008 does not disfranchise smart, talented, or otherwise qualified white students; rather, it works for all students because everyone benefits by learning in a climate that values and cultivates diversity. Plan 2008 encompasses a variety of programs created to increase campus diversity, including recruitment, mentoring, financial aid, and student support services.
An example of UW-Madison's need for increased diversity on campus has been made painfully clear in recent years by companies like Alcoa and General Motors. They've stopped recruiting from the College of Engineering because of the lack of diversity on campus. They're not the only ones with reservations — Kimberly Clark, the Cargill Corporation, and Proctor & Gamble were among the companies to urge the School of Business to increase its enrollment of students of color during a Diversity Forum. Every potential job applicant — white students included — is affected when big companies refuse to come to our campus to recruit candidates.
UW has many good plans in place to recruit and retain targeted minority students, faculty and staff. The PEOPLE Program, the Faculty Strategic Hiring Program and increased need-based financial aid are some highlights of Plan 2008 elements that are working. The most contentious (and only a small part of) these successful strategies is the Lawton Grant. Lawton Grants direct state funds to cover part of the tuition burden for targeted minority students who demonstrate financial need. These grants are only offered beginning sophomore year; their specific purpose is to support underrepresented students who face significant financial obstacles to completing their degrees.
In May 2003, an External Review of Plan 2008 at UW-Madison yielded a recommendation that the university increase and maintain its financial aid competitiveness. Offering increased financial assistance for significantly underrepresented groups would provide incentive for resident minority students to stay in state and draw non-resident minority students to UW.
Currently our university has one of the least diverse campuses in the Big Ten. We fall considerably behind some of our biggest competitors, including the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan and Northwestern. The relatively homogenous population of the state of Wisconsin is partly to blame, but all the more reason why UW should continue to offer incentives like the Lawton Grant and other scholarships to potential students of color.
Some people don't agree with the goals and methods of Plan 2008. They're often caught up in an ideological opposition to the plan, and ignore the positive implications for all students of a more diverse campus. The reality of Plan 2008, however, is that it's working and showing promise.
We're not there yet, but we're headed in the right direction. Proctor & Gamble resumed recruiting at UW-Madison's College of Engineering last spring. The first-year retention rate gap between all students and targeted minority students has been closing since 1998, as have the second- and third-year retention rate gaps. And there's more good news to come if we stick to the plan.
Liz Sanger (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior majoring in violin performance and English.