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By Selena Stevens

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The Kentucky Plan now seeks to provide greater access and equal opportunity for an increasingly diverse student population.

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July 19, 1999 – (Lexington, Ky.) – In a year when the University of Kentucky is honoring its African-American heritage with the 50 Years of African Americans Commemoration, the university is celebrating great strides in meeting the goals of The Kentucky Plan for Equal Opportunities in Postsecondary Education. A recent report from UK's Office of Affirmative Action shows the university has met goals for African-American student enrollment and faculty employment.

"This really shows the university's commitment to having a diverse campus," said UK Vice Chancellor for Minority Affairs Lauretta Byars. "Our president has made a commitment to diversity and has provided us with the support to reach those goals."

The Kentucky Plan, created in 1982 to help remove vestiges of segregation from higher education in the state, now seeks to provide greater access and equal opportunity for an increasingly diverse student population. Administered by the Council on Postsecondary Education Committee on Equal Opportunities, the plan's goals are reevaluated annually.

UK has had annual growth in African-American student enrollment. In 1998, first-time freshman African-American enrollment was 8.2 percent and undergraduate enrollment climbed to 6.3 percent. In 1990, African Americans represented only 3.9 percent of undergraduates at UK.

The university also has made strides in graduate enrollment and faculty recruitment. In 1996, 6.1 percent of graduate students were African Americans, surpassing its goal of 5.3 percent. Numbers for 1998 indicate graduate enrollment is up to 6.4 percent. Faculty employment rates jumped over the 3.0 percent goal in 1993, hitting 4.1 percent in 1997.

Of Kentucky's eight public universities, UK ranks second in terms of percentage of the state's African-American students enrolled. In 1997, UK enrolled 15.8 percent of the state's African-American undergraduates studying in the four-year college system and 19.7 percent of all resident Kentucky undergraduates. UK is the only one of the eight Kentucky universities that practices selective admissions.

"I think African Americans are starting to look beyond the segregated history of higher education to the opportunities it offers," Byars said. "Faculty are excited to come to UK because they see tremendous opportunities for research as the university strives to become a top 20 school. Students come to UK because of our commitment to student success and diversity and cutting-edge knowledge."

Students at the university hail from more than 100 foreign countries, all 50 U.S. states and almost every Kentucky county, Byars said. With such a diverse population, students have the opportunity to participate in groups such as the Black Student Union and take part in festivals like the annual Cultural Diversity Festival.

But UK's great success lies not only in bringing African Americans to the university, but retaining them, said Patty Bender, affirmative action technical coordinator for UK.

"An important point is that our Kentucky resident African-American and white students are entering and staying at the university at nearly the same rate," Bender said.

In 1997, the retention rate of resident first-year African-American students was 79.4 percent, compared to 80.4 percent for white students. Resident undergraduate retention was 78 percent for African-American students and 81.2 percent for white students. The graduation rate for Kentucky African-American students also has improved significantly.

"Students are coming here and graduating at increasing rates, and a great deal of that has to do with the programs of the Office of Minority Affairs," Bender said.

Programs such as the "Come See for Yourself" orientation for prospective students and the presence of the Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center attract many students, Byars said. The availability of offerings such as the William Parker Academic Scholarship and the Lyman T. Johnson Fellowship programs also provide incentives to top minority students. The 50 Years Commemoration also has proved UK's dedication to diversity. However, the success of African-American students may serve as the best encouragement. In 1998, student Anthony Jones was named a Truman Scholar, Jimmy Glenn was elected president of the Student Government Association and alumnus Angelo Henderson was named a Pulitzer Prize winner.

"Our students are seeing they can do anything they set their minds on," Byars said. "They are achieving great things and inspiring us all to do even better."

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