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Zha Blong Xiong

Zha Blong Xiong, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota, is the first Hmong person to earn tenure at a major research university in the United States.

Regents meet over tuition and tenure

By Bob San and Pauline Oo

May 16, 2006

Zha Blong Xiong, who teaches sociology in the University of Minnesota's General College, is used to being first.

He was the first person in his family to receive a college degree. He was the first Hmong in the United States to earn a doctoral degree in family social sciences. He became the first Hmong professor in Iowa when Iowa State University hired him. When Xiong came to the University of Minnesota in 2003, he became the first Hmong full-time professor in U history and the first Hmong person to hold a tenure-track position at a major U.S. research university.

So, little surprise when he landed another first.

On Friday (May 12), the Board of Regents approved the promotion or tenure of 193 faculty members, and Xiong, who was among that group, became the first Hmong person to earn tenure at a major research university in the United States.

"I always wanted to be an educator, but in Laos there weren't many universities, so when you think of teachers you think of high school and elementary school teachers," said Xiong, who escaped war-torn Laos, landed in Hastings, Minnesota, as a teenager, and overcame language barriers to graduate from high school and college. "The idea of becoming a professor came when I was in graduate school."

Although there are several other tenured and tenure-track Hmong faculty members in Minnesota and California, all of them hold their positions at teaching--not research--universities.

Xiong, an expert in parent-adolescent relationships in immigrant families, adolescent adjustment, and parent education, received his doctoral degree in family social science from the U in 2000 by developing a curriculum that provides guidelines and instructions to help Southeast Asian families adapt parenting and communication skills to nurture and monitor their adolescents. He taught for two years at Iowa State University before returning to the U.

"Minnesota is always home. I have lots of relatives and family here," said Xiong. "Professionally, I think Minnesota is unique because of the growth in diversity. There's a big increase in immigrants and ethnic minorities in the state in recent years. My research focuses on ethnic minorities, especially adolescents in those communities."

Xiong plans to continue to do research on juvenile delinquency among Hmong youth. In addition to taking the traditional approach of studying the phenomenon across family groups, he will also analyze it within family groups to determine what accounts for the different outcomes in siblings.

Tuition discussed The regents also discussed tuition trends and reviewed the cost of attending the University of Minnesota in 2006-07.

The University is proposing a 6.5 percent hike in tuition systemwide beginning this fall. Tuition on the Twin Cities campus will rise from $8,040 to $8,563 in 2006-07 for most resident students. At Crookston, tuition will go from $6,765 to $7,208; at Morris, from $9,104 to $9,695; and at Duluth, from $8,056 to $8,580.

"Public higher education is different than it was 10 years ago," said Peter Zetterberg of the Office of Institutional Research and Reporting to the regents' Educational Planning and Policy Committee. "Increases in tuition and fees are not unique to the U; it's happening at all other Big 10 universities and across the nation."

Zetterberg added that these increases have been driven by a common set of circumstances confronting all states, including the downturn in the economy and the subsequent budget problems faced by nearly all states, the escalating costs of employee health insurance, utility costs, and the continuing need to retain and attract top faculty.

Because of the change in higher education funding patterns, financial aid has become increasing important. Today, with reduced state support, nearly one-third of need-based financial aid at the University comes from the U's own coffers; in the past, this aid came from federal and state funding. (Now it's pretty even--one-third from the U, one-third from the federal government, and one-third from the state.)

In recent years, the U has launched several scholarship initiatives to protect low-income students and to keep the U affordable. The Founder's Opportunity Program, created to help low- and moderate-income students who qualify for federal Pell Grants, is now assisting about 175 students and, when fully phased in, will benefit more than 4,500 a year. The program covers 100 percent of tuition and required fees over and above other grants and scholarships. The Promise for Tomorrow Scholarship Drive has raised $121 million of its $150 million goal and is helping 1,000 more students each year. When fully phased in, it will serve a total of 7,200 students.

Recent increases in tuition at the U have "not been a barrier to our enrollment and applications," said Zetterberg. "Our freshmen class numbers are the same. We bring in 8 to 9 percent of the state's high school graduates, and this [percentage] has been consistent for 20 years." In fact, freshman applications are up 22 percent from a year ago--the fourth consecutive record year of freshman applications on the Twin Cities campus.

"That sustained increase in applications is evidence that students and their families place a high value on a U of M education," said Richard Pfutzenreuter, University chief financial officer. "An education here is one of the best investments a young person can make in his or her future." He said that U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that during their working years, people with a bachelor's degree earn on average $2.1 million--nearly twice as much as workers with only a high school diploma.

The Board of Regents will review and act on the proposed tuition plan at its June meeting.