UI makes strides toward diversity

By Se Young Lee

University officials’ efforts to curb the substantial decrease in the minority student population for the fall of 2004 appear to be paying off, according to a preliminary report compiled by the Office of Admissions and Records.

As of Nov. 30, the University has admitted 10 American Indian students, 188 African-American students and 327 Latino students for the fall semester of 2005. This is a significant increase from the enrollment statistics from Nov. 30, 2003, when two American Indians, 48 African-Americans and 96 Latino students were accepted for the fall semester of 2004.

The campus saw the first decrease in minority enrollment in almost 10 years in the fall semester of 2004. According to the preliminary 10-day enrollment report compiled by OAR, undergraduate enrollment increased 2 percent, from 28,623 undergraduates in the fall semester of 2003 to 29,294 enrolled for fall semester of 2004. However, the number of identified minority students has decreased from 7,662 to 7,006, an 8 percent drop.

One of the most striking statistics is the drop in the number of African-American students. There are only 1,936 undergraduate students enrolled this year who have identified themselves as African-American, as opposed to 2,147 students last year. While the class of 2008 – 7,248 strong – is the largest class in the University’s history, only 410 of those students identified themselves as African-American. This is quite a drop from the class of 2007, in which 602 of 6,801 students identified themselves as African-American.

Dionna Alexander, senior in business and president of the Minority Association for Future Attorneys, said diversity is a critical component of a college education.

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    “The world is a diverse place,” she said. “(Students will be in) situations to work with people with different backgrounds … (They must) learn to work together.”

    Stanley Henderson, Illinois’ assistant provost for enrollment management, said the University cannot allow the decline in minority enrollment to continue because diversity is key to the quality of the education the University provides.

    “The excellence of an Illinois education depends on the fact that students (will be involved) with students with different backgrounds than they have had,” Henderson said.

    Richard Herman, the interim chancellor of the University, said the decline in minority enrollment was partly caused by problems in internal communication, as new officials were adjusting to the admissions process. However, Herman also said there was an overall decrease in the number of minority students enrolled in universities and colleges in the United States.

    “This is a national trend,” he said. “Minority enrollment, especially for African Americans, is decreasing despite the increase in number of minority students graduating from high school.”

    Alexander said that in order to attract more minority students, the University needs to do a better job of reaching high school students who may not be thinking of Illinois as an option.

    “It’s important to make them consider that (Illinois) could be a good place for them to receive their education,” she said.

    Alexander also said the applicants should be evaluated not only by the numbers, but by their involvement in school activities and their communities as well.

    Henderson, while noting that the University has been employing a variety of methods in recruiting minority students, said it had to adjust its strategy because competition for minority students with strong records has increased nationally.

    First, the University is attempting to personalize the application process for the students. More phone calls are being made to prospective minority students from students and alumni, and visiting students are being provided with more chances to interact with the students and faculty on campus. Henderson said the University will begin recruiting for the year 2007 in January of 2005 by writing to sophomores and sending representatives who will communicate with them to maintain a close and personal contact and cultivate familiarity.

    “We have never recruited students that young,” Henderson said. “(It is) something we are going to have to do to face the competition.”

    The University will be guiding the students to take the proper courses to prepare for the rigors of a college education.

    “It’s a partnership to get the students more prepared,” Henderson said. “We want to make sure students understand … in order to be successful in college, they need to take … a well-rounded college prep program.”

    The University has placed greater emphasis on involving the students’ families in the recruiting process, as well. Parents of the prospective students are receiving direct communication through writing addressed to them. OAR is also redesigning its Web site to offer a parents’ section, which will seek to answer some of the questions parents most frequently ask University officials and representatives.

    “What parents really want to know is ‘Is my child going to be happy and successful at your university?'” Henderson said. “We want to make sure parents feel comfortable about their children going to the University of Illinois.”

    Herman said the University will also look to strengthen its ties with community colleges in order to draw in more minority transfer students. But he emphasized that the University will also put in an adequate support structure for the students.

    “It’s not just a numbers game,” Herman said. “(It’s about) getting people here and giving them an opportunity to succeed.”

    The University is also helping students of low-income families pay for their education. It announced a new privately-funded financial aid plan called “The Illinois Promise” on Monday, which will make up the difference between the estimated costs – tuition, fees, books and room and board – and federal, state and institutional grants and scholarships that a student whose family is at or falls below the federal poverty line receives.

    “The goal is to make sure individuals from all socioeconomic groups get here,” said Herman, who announced the program. “This program will have a significant portion of minorities involved in it.”

    Ruth Watkins, assistant provost of the Office of Provost and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, said the processing of the applications received will be expedited to decrease the waiting time for students. She said the transitional period of the implementation of the Banner program – a new computer system instituted throughout the campus for student registration, finances, grades and admissions – created more delays in notifying the students of their status, which she believed was a factor in the decline in minority enrollment.

    The fact that the University made applications available online for the first time in 2003 did not help matters, Henderson said.

    “Application processing became more complicated for us,” Watkins said. “(It) increased the length of time on our hands.”

    Henderson said the entire University has made tremendous efforts to turn around the decline and that he was hopeful that the socioeconomic diversity on campus will be restored.

    “I see it as a very much coming together of the University to be very serious about recruitments and admission of students of color,” Henderson said. “We wanted that decline to be reversed … We’ve seen results at this point.

    “We will continue to recruit very aggressively … (and) we will be very aggressive with students who were accepted to get them to actually come to the University,” he said.

    Herman emphasized the need for the University to continue making a concerted effort to ensure that the campus accurately represents the socioeconomic dynamics of society for all recruitment classes.

    “I think we need to create certain benchmarks for ourselves and continue to monitor the situation,” Herman said. “And we are doing that.”