Minority student enrollment lowest in almost ten years

By Caroline Kim

The number of freshmen enrolled at the University this year is the largest ever with 7,248 students. Of those freshmen, only 410 students are black -the lowest number in almost a decade.

For the past decade, both the freshman population and enrollment of students of color have gradually increased. But this year the number of Latinos, Native Americans and blacks decreased despite the size of the freshmen class. Only the Asian-American population saw an increase.

Stanley Henderson, associate provost for enrollment management, published the Freshman Profile Report for Fall Semester 2004 this week. The number of Latinos dropped 4 percent since last year; the number of Native Americans, 24 percent; and the number of blacks, 32 percent, while the number of Asians, 59 percent, rose since last year.

Henderson said the University has had a strong and active recruiting process for students of color and this year was an anomaly.

“It is a disturbing decline … the issue is one of (the admissions office’s) absolute top priorities,” Henderson said.

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The admissions review process begins with a predicted University grade point average that is determined by the applicant’s class rank and SAT or ACT scores from high school. The admissions officers then look at the applicant’s coursework, personal statement and any additional information.

Henderson said last year, the academic profile hit an all-time high with enrollment of students of color.

However, Henderson said he thinks the main reason for the decline is that this year’s applicant pool was weaker compared to previous years. He said that could be because there is more competition to recruit students with higher academic qualities. The number of applicants in the lower region of credentials significantly increased while the upper region decreased.

The freshman class’s academic quality did not change, although there was an increase in the average ACT score.

Elana Willis, freshman in LAS, said she does not think this is a real issue.

“I think the reason that it declined is that African Americans are not testing as well and the University is not accepting lower scores … I think it’s good that they’re not just taking them because they’re minorities, but are taking them for their grades,” she said.

Henderson said the University of Michigan and Ohio State also had a decline in the number applicants from students of color – but some Big Ten schools have had an increase in students of color.

“We have historically had the largest number of students of color,” Henderson said. “Even with our drop with African-American students this year, we still expect to be at the top amongst the Big Ten universities.”

At Purdue University, the number of blacks dropped 4 percent from last year, but the number of other minorities increased overall, according to Jan McClean, operations analyst at the school’s office of enrollment management analysis.

The University of Illinois-Chicago has seen a consistent decline in black and Latino enrollment in the past decade, according to its demographic summary of new freshmen.

“This is an alarming situation that I hope will cause the campus to ask itself very detailed questions so that we can resolve the problem,” said Nathaniel Banks, associate dean of students and director of the University’s African-American Cultural Program. “I do think the problem can be resolved, and I don’t think we should overreact, but to do nothing is just as dangerous as overreacting.”

The University has 43 programs for under represented students and faculty that help recruit and retain students of color. Some programs include the Equal Opportunity Program, La Casa Cultural Latina, the Office of Minority Student Affairs and the Gender and Women’s Studies Program.

La Casa director Giraldo Rosales suggests establishing a task force to carefully examine and resolve the situation.

The admissions office has begun recruitment efforts for next year’s freshmen class. They will continue to use methods such as visits to high schools and peer recruitment.

New programs will also be added. Henderson described a communications program that includes phone calls, e-mails and letters from admissions officers, alumni and current students.

He said the admissions office is adopting a new policy to recruit families, not just students, to show the families how the University will serve students and make them comfortable with the school. Their focus is establishing personal relationships.

“Diversity and excellence are twin kinds of things,” Henderson said. “Whether it’s a student of color or Caucasian, it’s a loss for every student on this campus. We have to make sure that the next (year) is a gain.”