BY MALLORY BEBERMAN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 9, 2009
Though the number of underrepresented minority students enrolled at the University is decreasing, educators working in Detroit Public Schools said University President Mary Sue Coleman’s trips to the city’s schools may be helping to change that.
For every year since the passage of a state constitutional amendment in 2006 that banned the use of race-based affirmative action, the number of underrepresented minority students enrolled at the University has declined. According to data released by the University in October, underrepresented minority freshman enrollment is down 11.4 percent from last year.
In an effort to curb this decrease, Coleman has been traveling to Detroit and speaking to students in hopes of encouraging them to consider the University as a viable post-high school option. In a series of interviews over the last several weeks, many Detroit educators said the tactic is a practical solution to stem the underrepresented minority enrollment declines.
In October, Coleman spoke to hundreds of Detroit educators at the 2009 Wolverine Outreach Workshop reception, which aimed to inspire more students from Detroit Public Schools to apply to the University.
Thomas Moss, assistant principal at Cooley High School in Detroit and a University alum, said in an e-mail interview that the reception urged educators to encourage students who would normally apply to schools like Wayne County Community College or Wayne State University to give the University of Michigan’s application a try.
In a school where 99 percent of the student population is African-American, according to www.publicschoolreview.com, Moss said that economic and academic barriers commonly discourage students capable of excelling at the University from even applying. In order to cut down these barriers, Moss said that more guidance counselors have been hired to “insure academic continuity and success for all of our students.”
Moss said that Coleman’s speech and the efforts of other University officials have helped to supplement the work of the school’s guidance counselors.
“They’ve encouraged those of us who are front-line players in this ever-changing landscape of public education to keep pushing our young charges to stay focused on their very attainable life by maximizing on all of their opportunities,” he said.
Moss said that while some Detroit high schools like Cass Technical High School, Renaissance High School, King High School and Communication and Media Arts High School are “prime areas for Detroit public school recruitment,” other schools including Cooley High School, Denby High School, Osborn College Preparatory Academy, Cody College Preparatory Upper School of Teaching and Learning and Central High School are not — meaning that students in the first group would be more likely to attend the University than those in the second group.
Kenyetta Wilbourn, principal of Denby High School in Detroit, wrote in an e-mail interview that she is satisfied with the support that the University has shown to her school through the years, but does have a few recommendations.
She suggested that the University put more emphasis on “teaching the students how to complete applications, test-taking skills, and how to matriculate at higher levels of learning.”
Ken Watson, the college and scholarship coordinator of Central High School, said that while the University currently helps his students prepare for the SAT and sends guest speakers to talk about the benefits of a college education, he envisions the University eventually playing a larger role in encouraging the school’s students to apply.
Central is currently undergoing a transformation to help the school better promote a college-going culture. Watson explained that Central aims to house educators from Michigan colleges directly within its school walls in order to give students first-hand access to information about colleges.
Watson said the success of this initiative is crucial because the students who will reap the benefits “will for the most part be first generation of college goers” in their family.
He added that he hopes the University members will participate because “they are the leaders of our state.”
According to William Collins, director of the University’s Center for Educational Outreach and Academic Success, the aim of Coleman’s speech at the reception was to encourage college-going culture among underrepresented minority students in Detroit Public Schools.
“President Mary Sue Coleman spoke about her own interests in having a diverse student body here,” he said.
Ted Spencer, associate vice provost and executive director of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, said this year was the first time that the Wolverine Outreach Workshop spoke directly to “primary people in the Detroit public school system” like superintendents, principals and guidance counselors.
“For our president to go down and talk about our commitment to Detroit and how we want to do everything we can to encourage Detroit public school students is vitally essential and extremely helpful to any effort that we have for attracting students,” Spencer said.
In her speech, Coleman used the story of University alum Jawuan Meeks as an example of a student who came from Detroit and achieved success at the University and beyond. Meeks — now a middle school teacher in physics and geography in Boston — said he decided to apply to the University after hearing a speech like Coleman’s from a University representative at his high school.
“I think that students need to know that getting to college is believable, something that can happen,” he said.
Though Spencer said that “in terms of a specific area, (Detroit) is certainly one of the largest areas in the state and perhaps in the country that (the University) receives applications from and (has) students enrolled from,” he believes there is always room for further improvement.
“Our biggest effort is making certain that we program better with the city of Detroit and make as many students and faculty and staff aware of those programs,” he said.
One such program is in the works, according to University alum Thomas Parker, principal of the new Osborn College Preparatory School. He said his school is working on partnering with the University to encourage students to apply for the University by exposing them to it as early as ninth grade.
In addition to an upcoming field trip to the University, Parker said he is planning for “financial training and college application workshops in the spring with the ninth graders to prepare them before they get to 12th grade, with the expectations that they should be doing it now.”
Parker said that so far, the University has been “very responsive” to his efforts to forge a relationship between the two schools. He added, “They’re ready and waiting to help and assist in any way.”