With underrepresented minority students comprising 17 percent of all graduate students, the University of Arizona's graduate student body is now the most ethnically diverse among all peer Association of American Universities institutions.
As of this past fall, 17 percent of the UA's graduate enrollment of more than 7,400 students were underrepresented minority students.
In 2002, underrepresented minority students comprised 12 percent of overall graduate student enrollment. By 2013, that number grew 41 percent. Since 2002, the percentage increase in enrollment for African Americans at the UA was 70 percent. For American Indian students it was 52 percent and for Hispanic students it was 28 percent.
"The UA Graduate College is among the best in the nation at producing the diverse talent pool that our state and nation so desperately need to meet critical workforce shortages, and close the innovation gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics," said Stephanie Adamson, recruitment director for the UA Graduate College.
The enrollment increases are representative of important priorities under the UA's academic and business plan, Never Settle, which establishes that the UA will, among other priorities, recruit and retain a more diverse student body while also reducing the time to degree for graduate students.
"An educated population will continue to be instrumental to the social and economic development of our state, supporting the well-being of Arizonans," said Maria Teresa Velez, associate dean for the UA Graduate College and principal investigator on a number of federally sponsored programs designed to recruit and retain underrepresented students.
Echoing priorities advanced under Never Settle, Velez noted, "We want to help provide opportunities for people to surpass the level of education of their parents to promote a cycle of wellness and economic power."
Thanks in part to federally sponsored programs and administrative initiatives, the UA is ranked first nationally in doctoral degrees earned by American Indian students and eighth in doctoral degrees earned by Hispanic students, according to the National Science Foundation's 2013 Survey of Earned Doctorates.
Aiding in the increased enrollments are programs like the federally supported undergraduate research program, named the Maximizing Access to Research Careers, and the graduate research education program Initiative for Maximizing Student Development, which support students pursuing doctoral degrees in biomedical sciences. The initiatives program has produced 51 doctoral students since it began in 2001, with most students completing their degrees at a quicker pace than institutional or national averages, Velez said.
Velez said that underrepresented minority students tend to be highly attracted to interdisciplinary programs, and those tightly aligned with workforce and community-based needs. Underrepresented students, including rural, low-income and other underserved populations, may come from communities where there are serious health disparities – such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease – and these students are more likely to want "to study those problems and find solutions," she noted.
The Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership at the UA has helped retain American Indian graduates, resulting in 13 students earning doctoral degrees and an additional 39 students earning master's degrees, all in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, fields, Velez said.
"Many of these talented alumni have returned to their reservations or are working for health services, planning offices, community colleges and tribal colleges. They are contributing to bringing information and education to reservations," she said.
There are other administrative initiatives at the UA supporting students who have had difficulties accessing graduate education, including the Graduate Access Fellowships, which provide financial support to first-generation, low-income students. The Graduate College also offers professional development programs and individualized assistance for students seeking fellowship and community engagement opportunities.
Doctoral student Jason Dungee, an African American student, chose to study at the UA specifically because of the reputation of the choral and choral conducting programs in the School of Music. He is one of 80 UA singers who traveled to Vienna and Prague this month, having received a rare invitation to perform on some of the world's oldest and most prestigious stages.
"In the graduate choral department, there is a track record for excellence and, to be frank, post-graduation job placement," said Dungee, also a teaching assistant who wants to one day work as the choral activities director at a four-year institution. He said the UA is preparing him for that future.
Another graduate student, Jose Miguel Rodas, a Hispanic student, chose the UA because he felt it was well-suited to serve students like him.
A doctoral student in family studies and human development, Rodas studies the various ways cultural and societal influences shape family dynamics for Hispanic students. He aspires to work directly with students, helping them to expand their resources and develop skills to be successful at the higher education level and, in turn, to aid in the development and growth of communities.
"I hope to inform my future students about issues by engaging in service learning opportunities, where they go out into the communities and understand the inequalities and lack of resources that are given to these students," Rodas said. "I also want them to prepare them to make change in their community and to give them the knowledge and tools needed for them to go out into the community and make the necessary once they graduate."