Minority enrollment rebounds from 2004

By Teresa A. Sewell

The enrollment rate for all minorities is up this year at the University, rebounding from the significant drop in 2004.

Minorities include American Indian or Alaskan Native, Black, Asian, and Latino/a students.

Out of more than 7,000 freshmen last year, 1,868 were minorities. In 2005, out of more than 7,500 freshmen, 2,025 are minorities, according to the Office of Admissions and Records new freshman profile.

Departments across campus are happy their efforts have increased the numbers since 2004 and are hopeful that numbers will soar beyond their expectations.

“We’re not back up as we were a couple of years ago, but we are moving in the right direction,” said Michael Jeffries, associate dean of students for Minority Student Affairs.

It’s not easy recruiting students because they have many options, Jeffries said. We want to convince counselors’, students and parents that this is a good place for students, he said.

Building relationships with students and their families is important, said Nathaniel Banks, director of the Bruce D. Nesbit African American Culture Program. This includes talking to potential students before they reach their senior year of high school because it gives them a sense that the University wants them, Banks said.

Keith Marshall, Associate Provost, said he is pleased the numbers rebounded from last year.

It’s not particularly hard recruiting students of color, but competing schools recruit them heavily, Marshall said.

The department has been visiting high schools, giving information sessions, answering questions about life in Champaign-Urbana and offering campus tours, he said.

The associate provost and chancellor have created programs to increase financial awards this year, including thousands of dollars added to the Presidential Award Program, which is issued to high achieving students of color, Marshall said.

The University works hard at recruiting, and many people don’t realize that it is number two in recruiting blacks in the Big Ten, he added.

The goal is to get back up to the 2003 numbers and higher, Marshall said. Even though we may never know exactly why the numbers dropped the way they did, we are glad that we have corrected the problem this year, he added.

“It’s not just recruitment but issues of education,” Jeffries said.

I’ve seen many students come from the worst situations, from not having living parents to having low ACT scores, succeed at the University and even go on to graduate school, he added.

It is important to remember a high number of blacks are at or below the poverty line, he said.

We don’t want the University to become a school only for the wealthy, which is the background of most students who attend here, Jeffries said. Some students don’t attend the University because they do not have enough information about us, he said.

“We have to help them create that vision about what is possible … how they can be a part of this community and become great alumni,” Jeffries said.

A real advantage is having students go back and tell their siblings, creating a family legacy, Jeffries said. We now have a tradition of black and Latino/a families attending the University. We never had that in the past, he said.

Earl Young, junior in ACES, is the president of Project Youth. The group brings students from high schools, that may not be targeted by the Office of Admissions, to the University.

Project Youth serves as a “telescope,” letting many students from low-income areas see what life is like at the University, he said.

Project Youth has proven it retains students that participate in the conferences, Young said.

Some high schools only see army recruiters and junior colleges represented at their schools, Young said. It’s hard for them to understand what college life at an actual university is like.

Erica Vinson, freshman in LAS, said her final decision to come to the University had much to do with the amount of financial aid she received from the University.

“It’s a predominantly white school, so I was not surprised that the numbers were so low,” Vinson said.

But it can kind of be uncomfortable not seeing people of your same race, she said. Yet, the black organizations on campus made her feel welcomed, she added.

The University should continue to come to high schools and make its name known to increase enrollment, she added.

There was a combination of factors, such as the financial aid packet and better offers from other schools that could have contributed to the drop last year, Banks said.

The school also has a new system where the students from all three campuses are tracked. When using the new system, it was hard to keep track of our own students, he said.

It’s great that the number of freshman is up this year, but it is just as important to foster a climate to keep those students because those statistics are also an issue, Banks said.

That’s why programs like the African American Culture Program, known as the Black House, provide a place for the whole campus to learn about issues related to the black experience, he said.

Vinson said those programs definitely made her feel more comfortable and that she is glad to be informed about the enrollment rate.

“It makes you want to strive harder and do more in school, just to show that we (blacks) can make it too,” she said.