This fall, enrollment at the University reached its high water mark in school history, spurred in part by an augmented acceptance rate, which is now at 50 percent, according to data released by the University today. The data also showed that the number of underrepresented minority students enrolling at the University declined for the fourth straight year.

Enrollment totaled 41,674 students for the fall 2009 semester, according to numbers released this morning by the University Office of the Registrar. There are 26,208 undergraduates and 15,466 graduate students on campus this fall.

Ted Spencer, associate vice provost and executive director of the University’s admissions office, said the increase in overall enrollment is due to a number of factors, like the anticipation of a large number of students graduating this year and a substantial number of students not returning to the University this year because of financial constraints.

“These kinds of fluctuations happen throughout any given year, with effect to overall target changes,” Spencer said.

He added that these types of changes contributed to the admissions office’s decision to increase the size of the incoming class this year.

Admission offers were up more than 19 percent from last year, according to a press release from the University News Service. The University’s acceptance rate of 50 percent this year was an 8-percent increase from last year, Spencer said.

University officials were concerned about the University’s ability to accommodate the increase in students, but ultimately concluded that there would be enough facilities and staff to support the growth, Spencer said.

While overall freshmen enrollment is up 5.1 percent over last year — totaling 6,079 students — underrepresented minority freshmen enrollment was down 11.4 percent from last year, according to the report.

This decrease represents a loss of 69 underrepresented minority students — from 604 last year to 535 this year. As a percentage of the incoming freshman class, underrepresented minority students fell from making up 10.4 percent of the fall 2008 class to making up 9.1 percent of the fall 2009 freshmen class.

Since the passage of a statewide constitutional amendment in 2006 banning public institutions from using affirmative action as a factor in admissions, the number of underrepresented minority students at the University has declined every year.

Spencer said the University is concerned with this decrease and is making efforts to prevent a further decline in minority numbers through outreach programs.

“We certainly are concerned about this, and we made every effort possible to both identify young students who are underrepresented to encourage them to apply and then encourage them to enroll,” Spencer said.

Though the number of underrepresented minority students who chose to enroll was down this year, the number of underrepresented minority students who applied to the University and the number of those students accepted increased during this past admissions cycle, Spencer said.

According to Spencer, this decrease in underrepresented minority students who chose to enroll at the University is also due in part to the economic climate and the inability to attract students to visit the University due to the recession.

Spencer said the ban on affirmative action has also hindered the University from recruiting students based on race or ethnicity and from presenting scholarships based on such factors, which he faults for the decrease in underrepresented minority students at the University.

“And of course, the (amendment) itself limits the amount of effort we can put in both outreach and scholarship, and all those things were very major factors,” he said.

Spencer said while there is no guarantee there will be an increase in underrepresented minority students who enroll at the University in the future, the University has increased its outreach efforts to high school students to educate them on how to be successful when applying to the University.

“There’s no guarantee that we can do anything when you can’t use race as one of your factors,” Spencer said. “But we’re going to do everything we can to start early outreach programs, identifying students in the ninth, tenth grade.

“And we’re going to enhance the way that we are already communicating with them,” Spencer continued. “(We’ve) got to re-double those efforts to try and make certain that we touch as many students as we can.”

Billy Evans, professor emeritus of chemistry, who has been working with the University’s Center for Education Outreach, said the University has been communicating with underrepresented communities to prevent a further decrease in enrollment numbers for underrepresented minority students.

“I think that in order to keep enrollment figures trending upwards, we’re going to have to find ways of letting that community know that they are welcome here and also we have to work at increasing accessibility,” said Evans, who oversaw a study published last spring on the trends in minority hiring in the University faculty.

Though the University has increased its efforts to draw underrepresented minority students since the ban on affirmative action, it is still premature to expect significant results from these outreach programs, Evans said.

Evans said the University’s commitment to diversity should never waver in the future.

“We all know that we can do better, but it’s just going to require a lot of hard work,” Evans said. “But I think we should never stop focusing on that until the participation level of unrepresented minorities at the University begins to approximate the representation of the general population.”

Despite the current economic climate, the amount of financial aid given out this year was also at its highest in the history of the University, according to the press release.

Financial aid from the University was up 11.7 percent for undergraduates, totaling $118 million for the 2009-2010 academic year, according to the report.

This increase in financial aid came from a boost in Pell Grants, an increase in work-study programs available and endowments to the University, according to Spencer.

“Those are the kind of things we’re putting back into undergraduate education because we want all of our students to have a great experience here,” Spencer said.

— Mike Merar contributed to this report.

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