Students of color are not returning to campus, college’s enrollment director tells faculty

By Amaris Edwards, Staff Reporter

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The head of the college’s Enrollment Management Department said 67 percent of the freshmen who did not return after the Fall 2022 semester were students of color.

Michael Joseph, vice president of enrollment management, shared the data on Friday at a Faculty Senate meeting. 

“We’ve got to fix this retention issue,” Joseph said. “And I don’t think it’s just saying ‘no’ to a lot more students. I think it’s saying ‘yes’ to those same students but giving them the support they need right up front to make sure that they’re successful.” 

Joseph said a high number of students who left the college have both high financial needs as well as academic struggles. 

Madhurima Chakraborty, president of Faculty Senate, said at the meeting that she was not surprised by the information considering that 80 percent of full-time faculty are white. She added that the student population coming to the campus are not seeing themselves reflected. 

Joseph said students not having a “sense of belonging” was also a factor in some cases.

Jennifer Sadler, vice president of Faculty Senate, asked Joseph if there was any insight on specific things students need. 

Joseph said students need more support at the departmental level. 

“So for me it’s about leaving it up to departments in terms of how they want to build that relationship with students, so that students feel good about their classmates, feel good about their faculty, feel good about their department, and feel supported in terms of the kind of academics,” Joseph said. 

Greg Foster-Rice, associate provost for Student Retention Initiatives, a new position at the college, told the Chronicle in an email after the meeting that improving retention is part of the college’s strategic plan. “Diverse students have been a priority of programming and will continue to be a focus of our current and future strategies,” Foster-Rice said. 

In addition to the BIPOC retention rate, Foster-Rice clarified that 59 percent of the freshman class of Fall 2022 identify as BIPOC, and 83 percent of those students returned for their second semester.

“So some good news here,” Foster-Rice said. “But we still have a lot of work to do.”

The School of Media Arts has led the college’s enrollment decline over the past four years, losing 339 students.

Enrollment in the Design and Fashion Studies Departments has grown significantly during the same period. Before COVID-19, in Spring 2020, Design enrollment was at 572 students. In Spring 2023, enrollment is at 665. Fashion Studies enrollment in Spring 2020 was at 345 and is currently at 409 in the Spring 2023 semester.  

Joseph said the COVID-19 seemed to have had a bigger impact on the Media Arts programs than on other areas. The School of Media Arts includes Audio Arts & Acoustics, Cinema and Television Arts, Communication and Interactive Arts and Media.

“Retention has been bad in those areas..I really don’t know the answer to that to be honest with you,” Joseph said, in response to a question from a senator about why Media Arts had such big losses.

Joseph said it didn’t seem to be related to things happening in the industries where students eventually want to work. “We’re certainly not hearing there are changes in the marketplace,” he said. “Some of it is internal things. There’s been some challenges with that.”

Chakraborty also shared that a motion from the Senate’s Financial Affairs Committee requesting a 7 percent raise was denied. Provost Marcella David told Senate leaders in a March 3 meeting that she will consider a compensation increase but not at the level requested, 

Chakraborty said enrollment will drive any potential raise because Columbia is a tuition dependent institution. 

There is currently limited information on what metrics would be used to offer possible faculty raises, Chakraborty said. The provost should be able to share more information in April or May, she added.

This story was updated to correct the spelling of Madhurima Chakraborty.