Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs, said he was “surprised” to see the University ranked near the bottom of a recent report assessing the level of access public universities offer to underrepresented minority students.

Monts said he was taken aback by the results of a study released late last week by The Education Trust. The report, called “Opportunity Adrift,” rated one public school in each of the 50 states in terms of access for underrepresented minority and low-income students and compared changes in the figures from the 2004-2005 to 2007-2008 school years. The study also reported on the success of those students in attaining their diplomas throughout these time periods.

The study found that flagship universities have, for the most part, recently given more financial aid to more affluent students while neglecting to give aid to students in need. The report explicitly mentioned that the University of Michigan ranked near the bottom in all categories.

Monts said he was surprised by the results of the report, especially given the University’s typically high ranking in similar studies. Monts added that the College Board — the Board of Trustees of which Monts was the chair from 2006-2008 — gave the University a relatively high ranking in a similar survey.

“The University of Michigan is usually at the top of these national surveys and assessments,” he said. “I was frankly surprised to see that we were characterized in that manner. I think we can put forth evidence to say we actually do go to great lengths to recruit and retain underrepresented minorities.”

“The University of Michigan stands tall in terms of its commitment to diversity, not only racial and ethnic diversity, but socio-economic diversity as well,” he continued.

According to the study, the University is one of six flagship public schools nationwide whose composite rating of low-income and minority student access and success dropped from the 2004-2005 to 2007-2008 school years.

Monts said the decrease in minority student access to the University is due in large part to the passage of a statewide civil rights initiative in 2006 known as Proposal 2 that banned the use of affirmative action in admissions at public universities in the state of Michigan.

“Proposal 2 put a real chilly environment around the University of Michigan and many underrepresented minority students can gather the wrong perception about Michigan’s commitment (to diversity),” he said. “I think all the public universities are dealing with that issue in the state of Michigan, and in those states where there are these…anti-affirmative action policies, I think you see the same thing.”

University President Mary Sue Coleman told The Michigan Daily in an interview last fall that before the passage of the statewide civil rights initiative, the University was able to set aside specific scholarships for minority students. But after the initiative passed, these scholarships became available to a wider applicant pool, making it more difficult for underrepresented minorities to obtain financial aid.

Underrepresented minority enrollment at the University has decreased every year since the statewide civil rights initiative passed. The class that entered the University in Fall 2009 includes 535 underrepresented minority students, an 11.4 percent drop from the year before.

Though Monts acknowledged the drop in underrepresented minority students, he said Coleman and other University administrators are dedicated to increasing the diversity of the student body through outreach programs to areas in the state, especially Detroit, in order to recruit students from a wide range of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.

“We have a programmatic structure at the University that reaches out to (high) schools,” Monts said. “We just started The Center for Educational Outreach that is outreaching to schools all over the state of Michigan. We have an admissions office that is committed to reaching out to schools with underrepresented populations.”

In an effort to recruit more underrepresented minority students, Coleman has recently traveled to Detroit public high schools, and spoke to the city’s students and educators — like at the 2009 Wolverine Outreach Workshop reception in October of last year — about the University’s commitment to diversity.

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