High schools: Recruitment is not to blame

By Nick Escobar

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series of articles that attempt to take a closer look at the impact of this year’s decline in minority enrollment on campus.

Ivone Gutierrez, sophomore in LAS, graduated from Chicago’s Whitney Young Magnet High School in 2003 and said she came to the University for several reasons.

“I got a lot of phone calls from students here asking how I was and if I had questions or needed help,” Gutierrez said. This type of outreach convinced her to enroll at the University.

However, with the number of enrolled students of color down this year at the University, high school counselors are trying to figure out what happened and what can be done to reverse the trend.

High school counselors from some of the University’s top feeder schools said they do not believe that the University’s recruitment of underrepresented students had any impact on the number enrolled this year.

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Major feeder schools to the University include Homewood-Flossmoor, Naperville Central, Libertyville High School and Whitney Young, where 50 to more than 100 students routinely apply and receive acceptance to the University each year. College counselors from these high schools said they did not see any changes in recruiting efforts or the number of applicants, so they are not sure why the number of students of color – particularly the number of African-American freshmen – declined so drastically this year.

Stacey Kostell, director of University’s undergraduate admissions, said the University actively goes to Chicago public schools and underrepresented schools because they send students of color.

Both Homewood-Flossmoor and Whitney Young have a large African-American student population, while Naperville Central and Libertyville have large white and Asian-American/Pacific Islander populations.

Mark Renz, assistant principal of Whitney Young, said that 175 students applied to the University for the 2005-2006 school year – 128 of them were accepted, 22 were put on the waitlist and 25 were rejected.

“We’re heavily recruited because of the reputation of our school,” said Renz. “Not because of race.”

The racial breakdown at Whitney Young is 25 percent Caucasian, 35 percent African American, 20 percent Latino and 20 percent Asian American/Pacific Islander, Renz said.

Kostell said that one of the problems the University faces in recruiting African-American students in Illinois is that many are recruited by out-of-state institutions. The University currently recruits prospective students by visiting college fairs, two-year community colleges and high schools. But some institutions are employing more aggressive tactics.

Linda Arneth, a college counselor at Naperville Central, said an African-American student told her that an East Coast school accepted him. Arneth added that the location of the school would have made it difficult for him to know of it, but the school actively recruited him.

“They contacted him and flew him out,” Arneth said. “They wined and dined him, and he came back. And he said that he knew that the school was a right fit for him.”

The University has taken measures to reverse the decline of last year’s incoming African-American population by working to increase the retention of current African-American, Latino and American Indian students.

The University has also increased mailing information to minority students so that they can be better informed on what they need to do to apply, she said.

“We’re trying to make connections with students earlier,” Kostell said. “We want to build a relationship with students by the end of their sophomore year.”

Kostell said the way the University processed incoming freshmen may have contributed to a decline in minority enrollment, as well. She explained that when the University switched to the Banner system last semester it led to a delay in processing of students’ applications.

“Financial aid went out later,” Kostell said. “Students got their admissions papers a lot earlier this semester. We started tracking it in October.”

Many students decide where to attend college based on how much financial aid they receive. Minority students aren’t exceptions. Gutierrez said that she also gained entrance to Loyola and Northwestern but chose the University because the price was better.

Apathy among high school students is another obstacle that recruiters have to overcome, as well.

“We set up a table outside of the cafeteria so that the kids could talk to former alumni,” said Ole Stevens, college counselor at Libertyville High School. “The response from students, for the most part, was apathy. It all depends on who’s got their antenna up.”