Responding to what it sees as a national problem in attracting minorities to graduate degree programs, the Graduate School is launching a pilot initiative aimed at bolstering enrollment of underrepresented minorities.

Through the Graduate School Diversity Recruitment Program, which was conceived last fall and initiated in time for the graduate school’s fall 2005 application deadline this January, Assistant Dean of Diversity Liza Cariaga-Lo said she will oversee efforts to strengthen recruitment and retention initiatives for underrepresented minority students in six graduate school departments.

The program will address the difficulties American higher education faces in attracting minority candidates to Ph.D. programs, Yale President Richard Levin said.

“The numbers have been flat for almost 20 years in terms of students entering graduate school,” Levin said. “The pool has not been growing, and it still remains below the percentage of groups in the population.”

Cariaga-Lo said she and a team of nine diversity fellows will work with the Economics, Engineering, History of Art, Political Science, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and English departments to identify the sources of their problems attracting minority applicants.

Last year, underrepresented minorities accounted for about 11 percent of graduate student enrollment, Cariaga-Lo said. She said her office is exploring a variety of ways to increase minority enrollment.

“My role is to help [departments] identify issues, whether it’s the lack of applicants or a lack of resources, to do outside recruitment,” she said.

Graduate School Dean Jon Butler provided funding for the departments involved to help craft their recruitment plans, Cariaga-Lo said. In some cases, a lack of funding and faculty time constraints prevented department representatives from attending recruitment conferences and visiting target areas, she said.

Although Cariaga-Lo said minority enrollment in each of Yale’s graduate departments varies from year to year, David Redman, associate dean at Princeton University’s Graduate School, said science and engineering programs generally attract the lowest numbers of minority applicants.

Unlike the law and medical schools, graduate school admissions in most universities is a highly decentralized process, where the power to recommend admission lies within individual departments, making it difficult to implement graduate-school-wide policies aimed at increasing diversity among the student body, Redman said.

“Each department and program has a very specific set of things they’re looking for,” he said.

Although Yale’s pilot program will attempt to build a stronger minority applicant base this year, economics professor Ray Fair, the diversity coordinator for his department’s graduate admissions committee, noted that of the department’s 645 applicants this year, only 20 are considered to be underrepresented minorities.

The departments participating in the pilot program were selected for their variety of sizes and concerns, Butler said. Based on the success of the small sample of departments, the program will be expanded within the next three years, he said.

“We can use the lessons we learned next year,” Butler said. “We’re in this for the long haul.”