Despite decrease in Black student enrollment, Latino and economic diversity on the rise

Thursday, December 1, 2016 - 7:40pm

The the percentage of Black students at the University of Michigan decreased by a margin of 0.51 points for the 2020 graduating class. At the same time, number of Hispanic-identifying students rose by 0.82 percent in this year’s freshman class, according to enrollment statistics released last month — an increase from 344 total students to 428.

The fluctuations followed a long-term trend of low minority enrollment at the University. Kedra Ishop, the vice provost for enrollment management, cites Proposal 2 — which banned Affirmative Action in the state — as a leading cause for low Black student enrollment. However, Ishop noted the University is still investigating other potential reasons for the decrease.

“We pursue many courses of action to improve diversity on campus, and some are unsuccessful,” Ishop said. “We are currently researching this decrease in African-American enrollment. We will be looking at what kinds of students we lost, and why we had fewer African-American students. Was it because of financial aid, was it because of program selection, was it because they got into Harvard? These are all things that we can use to inform us going forward.”

The ongoing decrease in Black student enrollment has been a cofus of student activity on campus for decade. It spiked in 2013 #BBUM, where students shared their experiences of being Black at the University on Twitter. University alum Capri’Nara Kendall, former speaker of the Black Student Union, expressed frustration with the low Black and Latino student enrollment in an interview in 2015.

“Talk to me when minority enrollment is out of the 4 percent; when we’re looking at more of a 7-percent enrollment for African Americans,” Kendall said in 2015. “We’re looking for more of a 7-percent enrollment for Latino students.”

The Black Student Union and Students4Justice both declined to comment.

Latina student organizations, like the Lambda Theta Alpha Latin sorority, expressed optimism due to the increase in Hispanic student enrollment. Roxana Taginya, an LSA junior affiliated with Lambda Theta Alpha, noted the importance of enrolling more Hispanic students each year to the Latino community

“Given my work with the Latin@ community here on campus, being able to see the enrollment numbers for incoming Latin@s increase has been really amazing,” Taginya wrote in an email interview. “I personally have done a lot of work to build the Latin@ community here on campus and I find that there is strength in numbers.”

However, Taginya, despite feeling optimistic about the class of 2020’s increased Latino student enrollment, wrote that she hopes the increasing trend will continue going forward.

“Seeing more Latin@s on campus means a stronger network and a larger community through which incoming students can feel welcome,” Taginya wrote. “However, I hope that this increase continues from year to year because I believe there is a lot of work to be done at this school in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion and a greater presence from the Latin@ community would make a huge difference.”

Despite the mixed record of success in increasing representation for all demographics, Ishop said she thought the University’s efforts to improve economic diversity for the freshman class was reflected in enrollment figures.

“We are looking for diversity across all lines,” Ishop said. “This includes socioeconomic diversity as well. One of our goals is to make an education here accessible not just to the wealthiest students, but also to low and moderate income students. In order to achieve this, we put a lot of money into our financial aid departments so that cost — as much as we can control for — is not the reason why somebody who is accepted does not attend the University.”

For the class of 2020, the University increased budgeting for financial aid by 10.8 percent, according to a University press release, including a total of $170 million allocated specifically for need-based financial aid packages.

One of the factors Ishop attributed to the improvement in economic diversity was the introduction of the HAIL scholarship, which is a scholarship designed for high-achieving and low-income students from Michigan.

“The HAIL scholarship is a terrific example of our deliberate efforts to bring in people from different backgrounds and of our efforts to inform prospective applicants that a Michigan education can be affordable,” Ishop said. “And this wasn’t necessarily a policy-driven change, but more of a shift in messaging. We want high achieving students to know that you should still apply even if you are unsure of how to pay for college because cost should not be a factor. The University can help you need.”