A new survey intends to check the numbers behind Pacific Lutheran University retention rates, recruitment and overall trends for students of color. Beginning this spring, Director of Multicultural Recruitment for PLU, Melannie Cunningham will begin the Multicultural Recruitment and Success Survey.

The project will also study how students of color feel at PLU and their sense of belonging on and around campus.

“We really need to step back and take a look at how well we are doing. Is our environment conducive to receiving students that aren’t white and Scandinavian, which is our heritage,” Cunningham said. “We say that we are diverse and welcoming, and how do we know that for sure?”

Students of color at PLU are a minority, with only 27.8 percent  of the 2015 population identifying as such. According to the Chair of Women and Gender Studies, Teresa Ciabatta3ri’s 2015 Office of The President blog post about students of color, those students who identify as African American, Asian American and Native American at PLU “are less likely to return to PLU for a second year and to graduate in four to six years.”

This data has been taken from analysis of the annual MapWorks surveys and Student Satisfaction surveys and Diversity Learning Environment Surveys, both from 2012. National higher education studies have similar findings, according to the Education Trust, “60 percent of whites but only 49 percent of Latinos and 40 percent of African Americans who start college hold bachelors degrees six years later.”

And there is good reason to pay attention to these numbers. “From an economic standpoint, it costs less to keep a student than it does to recruit a student. But also, just who we are as a university it doesn’t feel good that people feel like they don’t belong,” Cunningham said.

As a university, PLU has set Diversity, Justice and Sustainability (DJS) as university wide pillars. DJS are listed as goals in PLU strategic planning pages, the PLU 2020 plan and across the university literature. Yet, “black students and other students of color have said in particular that they didn’t feel like they belonged here” Cunningham said.

And there is room for improvement. Not only are students of color underrepresented on campus, but according to the 2014 Human Resources faculty and staff demographics, PLU has six (or 11 percent) professors who identify as a person of color. This is concerning for Cunningham, but an area that has room for growth.

“So when you ask me if we are doing better I think that again, the fact that we are talking about it and shedding a light on it and the administration and those responsible for making it happen are acknowledging that we need to make it happen,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham is hoping to address these issues, starting with face-to-face interviews. This spring survey is a program assessment, which means Homecomingthat the data and trends are collected via interviews. Cunningham will be talking with current students of color, alumni, faculty and students who left PLU before graduating and many other groups to understand their experience at PLU.

“My goals for the assessment is to have quality conversations, open and honest conversations with as many people who are willing to talk to me about their experiences here at PLU — good, bad or the other,” Cunningham said.

The results collected from the assessment will be released sometime spring semester, with interviews starting this week. Conversations of diversity, race and ethnicity are continuing to happen around campus, but Cunningham encourages students to get involved.

“I want PLU students to recognize that this whole conversation about race is one that they must engage themselves in. It’s not just for the students of color to engage in. It is everyone’s conversation.”

For more information about the Multicultural Retention and Success Survey, contact Melannie Cunningham at or 253-535-8716.

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