Black student enrollment drops for University freshman class of 2020

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 - 3:08pm

Black student enrollment at the University of Michigan decreased in this year’s freshman class, according to enrollment figures released by the University Wednesday morning.

The new class of students is overall more diverse than last year’s class, however. Both the decrease in Black students and increase in underrepresented minorities comes amid the recent launch of the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan, which aims to increase and foster racial, socieonomic, gender, ethnic and other types of diversity on campus. 

In total, enrollment of Black freshmen in the class of 2020 fell from 5.1 percent in 2015 to 4.6 percent this year. Overall, 13.8 percent of the class comes from underrepresented minority backgrounds — a category including Black, Hawaiian, Hispanic, Native American, or a combination of two or more ethnicities — marking an increase of 1 percent from last year.

Hispanic enrollment rose by .82 percent in the new class, the largest increase among any individual group of underrepresented minorities.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily in September, University President Mark Schlissel said he expected a smaller growth in racial and socioeconomic diversity compared to last year, due to a series of strategies that were first introduced last year.

“There won’t be as big a leap this year as there was last year,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing that will continue to bounce up and down year by year, but it’s important the overall trajectory is upward.”

University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald said in an interview Wednesday that administrators are focusing their efforts on improving diversity of all types, including racial and economic, as well as on admitting first-generation students and students from a wider variety of high schools. He acknowledged, however, that efforts to increase African-American enrollment fell short of the University’s expectations.

“It’s a difficult process of trying to focus on improve diversity at the University,” Fitzgerald said.  “But it’s an area that we continue to work on, within the law of the state of Michigan.”

Among the student body as a whole, with the inclusion of this year’s freshman class undergraduate enrollment of minority students increased from 11.4 percent last fall to 12.3 percent of the undergraduate student body. In 2005, the year before Michigan voters passed Proposal 2 —a measure effectively banning affirmative action in admissions processes — minority enrollment accounted for 13.7 percent of the student body, according to a report issued by the University.

Addditionally, among the freshman class, the number of Pell Grant recipients increased to 17 percent, up from 15.3 percent last year, and the number of first-generation students spiked by 8.5 percent. 

Fitzgerald highlighted efforts aimed at bringing low-income students to the University, including the HAIL scholarship, which guarantees four years of waived tuition and fees for eligible students. The first cohort from the program enrolled in this year’s freshman class. 

“The first year of our HAIL scholarship experiment was very successful.” Fitzgerald said. “We brought in 262 HAIL scholars from all around Michigan. Now, this effort primarily targets socioeconomic diversity because that’s what the state law allows us to do.”

What the future looks like for the HAIL scholarship and others, however, isn’t entirely clear —in an October interview, Schlissel said the HAIL program and other efforts focused on recruitment and enrollment that are a part of the University’s newly released Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan depend in part on funds that have yet to be raised.

“Our hope is a significant portion of the $85 million (in DEI funds) will come from philanthropy,” he said.

Along with demographics, this year’s freshman class also represented a change in overall size. This year’s freshman class of 6,689 students is a significant increase from last year, when the University enrolled 6,071 incoming freshman. It also seems to represent a contrast in philosophy about class size— in 2014, after a a unexpectedly high number of students chose to accept enrollment at the University and caused housing and scheduling issues, University Provost Martha Pollack presented plans to the University's Board of Regents on how to reduce class size.

However, Fitzgerald said this 618-student increase in the freshman class was part of a yearlong intentional effort by the University to expand the size of the student body.

Overall enrollment for the Ann Arbor campus rose 2.4 percent from last year, bringing the total number of undergraduate students to 28,983 and graduate students to 15,735.  

Out-of-state students now comprise 48.4 percent of the student body, as compared to 46.5 percent in 2015. In-state enrollment dropped by 254 students, now making up 51.6 percent of all students.

“We’ve grown a little bit in the non-Michigan students ... to diversify the student body,” he said. “We’re looking at students of all socioeconomic statuses around the country.”

In a press release, Erica Sanders, director of undergraduate admissions, said the admissions department reviewed 55,504 applications — an increase of around 7 percent from last year, on par with steady increases over the past several  years. 

Of the 55,504 applications received, the University offered 15,871 students admission, with 6,689 enrolling for a yield of 42.1 percent.