University of Pennsylvania Center Aims to Turn MSI Research Into Results

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by Jamal E. Mazyck

Marybeth Gasman, director of the Penn Center for Minority-Serving Institutions, says that “Institutions that take more risks on students should be rewarded for taking those risks.”

Marybeth Gasman, director of the Penn Center for Minority-Serving Institutions, says that “Institutions that take more risks on students should be rewarded for taking those risks.”

PHILADELPHIA ― Launched in January, the Penn Center for Minority-Serving Institutions (CMSI), via the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, was created to highlight and advance the contributions of minority serving institutions (MSI) in higher education. The goals of the center include, among many, connecting academic and administrative leadership, advancing effective policies that strengthen MSIs, increasing development and support of students and faculty, and augmenting initiatives that aim to close achievement gaps in underrepresented groups.

Marybeth Gasman, a professor of higher education in the GSE and director of the center, explained the significance of an MSI designation and their specifics at higher education institutions in an interview with Diverse on Tuesday.

“In addition to interactively mapping online all the MSIs throughout the country, we will be able to then monitor the progress of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISI) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI), which have seen the most growth.”

Gasman went on to state that “once colleges reach designation percentages and federal monies are received, institutions can then support on-campus initiatives like the way Sacramento State University and De Anza Community College fund activism programs.”

The MSI designation also applied to community colleges, which, according to Gasman, amounts to about “half of all community colleges in the country.”

Thai-Huy Nguyen, a research assistant and current Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania, currently is working on a report in conjunction with the Community College Research Center at Columbia that analyzes community college MSIs and compares testing, degree/certificate completion rates, transfer rates, and the relationships with four-year institutions to majority community college institutions. There is not much data addressing the underrepresented at the associate degree level, and the CMSI hopes to shed light on the lack of minorities graduating and/or transferring to four-year institutions. Gasman noted that “success rates among African-American males always are reported on, but [for] those that struggle, we need to know why that is and how to change that.”

When asked about the proposed Obama administration college ranking system that intends to rate colleges and universities based on yet-to-be determined metrics and reward high performance, Gasman pointed out that “Institutions that take more risks on students should be rewarded for taking those risks. Institutions that are highly selective are not taking risks on students. They are accepting students that they think look perfect on paper. Why should we reward institutions that take no risks?”

Gasman looked at the pitfalls of such an approach as it could have been applied to her educational journey.

“We spend the least amount on students that need the most, and we spend them most on students that need it least. We need to flip that,” said Gasman, who reflected on her upbringing in a low-income household. “It costs more to educate me, and the country should invest in educating those who need extra help.”

The CMSI opened with three signature initiatives that are grant funded and plans to work on many more projects. One is funded by the Leona and Harry Helmsley trust; another is dedicated to HBCUs and STEM gateway courses where 10 schools will receive $50,000 each for capacity building money. The third is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation that examines teacher education efforts at MSIs and culturally relevant pedagogy.

Gasman cites Paul Quinn College as an HBCU that has developed innovative ways to engage the media to bolster recruitment and matriculation.

“Things that HSIs are doing can be mirrored at an HBCU or a tribal college,” said Gasman. “Actively branding and rebranding MSIs can be challenging, and the successes should be modeled across the MSI spectrum.”

The CMSI also has a prominent online presence. It features a blog, MSIs Unplugged, that tackles such subjects as “Top 5 Social Media Tips for MSIs” by Oscar Cullen, a social media specialist and marketing senior from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

Soon a downloadable history of all the MSIs will be available along with a media tool kit that provides information about how to interact with the media in addition to a scholar’s tool kit where students can research institutions they are considering attending or conduct research on MSIs effectively. All downloads will be free of charge. Using available data and generating its own data, the CMSI is able to frame the information that is beneficial to the underserved.

Research assistant and UPenn higher education Ph.D. student Felecia Commodore says she understands the power of information.

“Faculty and administration need to have honest conversations about what is going on with minorities on their campuses so that the problems are exposed and data can be accurately analyzed,” she said.

Jamal E. Mazyck can be reached at jmazyck@diverseeducation.com and on Twitter at @jmbeyond7

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