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The Future of the University of Minnesota
The Future of the University of Minnesota
U of M plan would close General College, Human Ecology
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U of M and diversity linked in debate over General College
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Students gather at the offices of the Black Student Union at the UofM's Minneapolis campus. (MPR News/Marisa Helms)
Plans to close the University of Minnesota's General College move forward, despite deep controvesy over the proposal. For more than 70 years, the General College has been a gateway for under-prepared metro-area high school students, many of whom are immigrants and people of color. University officials say even with the proposed changes to General College, they are committed to recruiting and helping students of color succeed.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Former General College student Suzie Gebre Hewitt is now a senior in the College of Liberal Arts and vice president of the Black Student Union at the U's Twin Cities campus.

One day recently, she's talking to a large group of African American middle and high school students, trying to interest in the University of Minnesota.

"When a lot of people come to the University of Minnesota, they think that they're not able to get the Black, or cultural experience they would get at a Howard or a Spellman or historical black colleges anywhere else," she tells them.

Later, Gebre Hewitt tells a reporter the U is not doing enough for its students of color.

Like many who want General College to stay put, Gebre Hewitt says the college is nearly the only way the state's public research university achieves a racially mixed student body.

The General College is by far the most diverse freshman admitting college at the university.

About half - 48 percent - of the students enrolled in G.C. are students of color, split about evenly between African American and Asian students. By contrast, students of color make up only about 13 percent of the overall university undergraduate population. Gebre Hewitt says this diversity is a reason to keep the General College alive.

"When you're taking away General College, you're taking away the cultural aspect of the university," she says. "The university claims that one of their goals is to recruit more people of color so they can have that diversity on campus. By taking away General College, it has further let us know, that's just bluff. That's just what sounds good to say."

If the General College closes, the U says it will try not to lose students of color.

President Robert Bruininks says the U's new strategic plan calls for a committment to campus diversity. He says the U will expand diversity by providing additional scholarships, and deepen the U's relationship with the K through 12 system to better prepare students for college. He says the strategic plan enhances student support systems and all students of color will have a better chance to succeed because of it.

Bruininks rationale for closing the General College is based on a couple of sharp criticisms. He says the General College tends to "segregate" students of color because so many of them take classes at Appleby Hall, the College's home base. Additionally, he says the General College is ultimately not hitting its mark when it comes to graduation rates.

"It is not acceptable for students who enter General College to graduate after six years at about a 30 percent rate," he says. "And if they're students of color, it's about a 20 percent rate. We need much higher levels of success for the students who enter the University of Minnesota."

The University's six-year graduation rate is almost 57 percent overall. The six-year rate for all students of color is 42 percent.

General College officials say their mission is simply to prepare incoming students for up to two years, and then transfer them into the wider university.

A "Save General College" rally is planned for noon Wednesday on the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis Campus.