In addition to recruitment and outreach, NIH programs must address retention strategies for all participants and identify specific strategies that will be used to sustain the interest of students from underrepresented backgrounds.
How can institutions identify retention problems? First, institutions should examine their participation data to identify any differences in retention, achievement, and progression rates by demographic group. Second, institutions should attempt to identify the cause and if appropriate, design retention strategies for participants at risk. One way of getting this information is to ask the participants for input on potential barriers or issues that they encountered while in the program.
Appropriate and effective retention strategies will depend on the academic or career stage of the participant and the goals and features of the program. In general, institutions with comprehensive retention services provide counseling, tutoring, academic support, financial support, and work to improve the climate on campus. Such resources may already exist on your campus.
Additional strategies for retention:
- Appreciate the Contributions of Scientists from Diverse Backgrounds.
- Motivational lectures, seminars or workshops open to all participants that highlight achievements by diverse scientists can be an effective strategy to encourage an appreciation of various career paths, and provide insights about how a person's background can influence their career choices and contributions. Biomedical Faces of Science videos, and Meet the Researchers are available resources on this website to facilitate such discussions.
- Provide Effective Mentoring and Professional Networking Opportunities.
- Retention in research and science even after academic preparation is also a challenge. Availability of mentors and career coaches, appreciation of diversity in the workplace, and facilitation of supportive work environments can increase retention. A number of national professional groups establish networks to support individuals and groups who may not be plentiful in one institution or region. In recent years, these associations have spearheaded efforts to recruit and retain students from underrepresented groups in higher education with the ultimate aim of diversifying their profession.
- Provide Strong Social Support.
- Steps to reduce isolation and increase persistence may include social and cultural activities organized by affinity groups on campus, and national science related affinity groups. Work to reduce micro-aggressions (e.g. lauding achievements only by those of one group or minimizing the contributions of others) can also create a more welcoming environment.
- Become Aware of Sources of Financial Aid/ Emergency Support.
- Many students, and often students from disadvantaged backgrounds, require financial aid to complete their academic programs. For example, in some communities, a student may be supporting other members of the family in addition to themselves by working full-time and carrying a full academic load. In addition, students from disadvantaged backgrounds often do not have any “back up” should a sudden financial event occur (e.g. car repair, medical bill). Be aware of your institution's resources for emergency financial aid.
- Provide Referrals to Academic Support and Advising.
- Academic advising is integral to student retention. Students may be reluctant to seek assistance; thus academic and faculty advisors must be committed to following up with all students by monitoring their progress. Opportunities for supplemental instruction or tutoring can enhance retention. Strong student-faculty relationships and mentoring programs are key to increasing student retention and graduation rates.
- For more suggestions on the development of outreach and retention programs, see
- Department of Justice and Department of Education, Guidance on the Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity in Postsecondary Education, Section IV, Approaches to Achieving Diversity (2011).