Data released this morning by University officials show that the University student population has reached an all-time record. And amidst this year’s growth there has been a rise in underrepresented minority students in the freshman class — though officials admitted that because of new reporting requirements, this year’s numbers are not directly comparable to last year.
The Office of the Registrar reported this morning that overall student enrollment for the University’s Ann Arbor campus is at 41,924 students for the fall semester. The increase is the result of a 3.1-percent increase in the number of undergraduate students and a 6.7-percent increase in the number of graduate and professional students.
Contributing in part to that growth was a larger than expected incoming freshman class. University officials had predicted over the summer that freshmen enrollment would increase by about 300 students from last year, which would have brought the incoming class to about 6,350. However, the data released this morning show that the number was even higher than that prediction, with 6,496 freshmen enrolling this fall.
Last year, officials announced that overall enrollment at the University reached an all time high with 41,674 students. Of those students, 26,208 were undergraduates, while 15,466 were graduate students. At the same time last year, officials acknowledged a slip in the number of underrepresented minority students on campus.
Perhaps most notable in the data released this morning is an increase in the underrepresented minority student community at the University. Officials reported that underrepresented minority students made up 10.6 percent of this year’s freshman class, which is up from 9.1 percent last year.
However, that increase could be, at least in part, due to revised reporting guidelines under the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which have altered the way student ethnicity data are collected and reported.
In a statement released this morning, Lester Monts, the senior vice provost for academic affairs at the University, said the data demonstrated the University is continuing to uphold it’s mission.
“Since its earliest years, the University of Michigan has offered an uncommon education to the leaders and the best among the men and women of this state and far beyond,” Monts said in a statement. “We have upheld that tradition with this exceptional entering class.”
And while applications from and offers of admission to underrepresented minority students have increased in recent years — reaching an all-time high last year and resulting in a larger underrepresented minority student community on campus this year — ethnic diversity on campus has been decreasing in the last several years.
In fact, as a percentage of the total student population, the number of underrepresented minority students at the University has fallen every year since 2003, University records show. The records, known as Form 816, also show that as a real number, the underrepresented minority population on campus has decreased every year since 2005.
Last fall, University officials reported that underrepresented minority enrollment fell by 11.5 percent in one year. A sizable percentage, the number was said to be equivalent to 69 students.
Leading University officials, including University President Mary Sue Coleman, have repeatedly told The Michigan Daily over the past year that more must be done to encourage underrepresented minority students to enroll at the University after being accepted.
“It’s concerning to us,” Coleman said at this time last year of the decreases in underrepresented minority enrollment. “I don’t think there’s a silver bullet, but we have to be more aggressive.”
Coleman added, “What I can do and will continue to do and have our colleagues in the administration do is to make sure that we’re continuing the outreach … I did that work last year, I’ll do more of that work this year, my colleagues will continue to do the work. But there’s a lot of work (to do).”
However, many — including Coleman — have said competing against schools in other states where affirmative action is legal is difficult, because unlike those other schools, the University cannot offer special scholarships geared specifically to minorities.
Other University officials, like Director of Undergraduate Admissions Ted Spencer, have said they would like underrepresented minority enrollment to increase, but have acknowledged that no guarantee can be made because of the University’s rigorous academic standards and the state’s ban on affirmative action.
“There’s no guarantee that we can do anything when you can’t use race as one of your factors,” Spencer said in an interview with the Daily last year. “But we’re going to do everything we can to start early outreach programs, identifying students in the ninth, tenth grade.”
And when considering the growing classes that have enrolled in the University in recent years, keeping the percentage of underrepresented minority students from slipping is an even greater challenge.
Coleman has repeatedly told the Daily she would like to see a smaller overall population of students at the University.
“We’ve been working on trying to shrink a little bit and some years we’ve been more successful than others in holding the line,” Coleman said last month. “I mean, I’m thrilled that so many people want to come to the University of Michigan, but we also have to be very cognizant of the experience students get, and we want that to be a good experience.”
Despite those wishes, the class size has continued to soar — primarily due to uncertainty in predicting the yield.
Officials, including then-University Provost Teresa Sullivan — who now serves as the president at the University of Virginia — told the Daily last year that the economic downturn made it difficult to predict how many students would accept offers of admission to the University in 2009, saying it was one reason a larger than expected class was admitted.
Though it may be easier to more accurately predict economic factors as the recession winds down, University officials say they are now concerned with how accurately they will be able to predict the yield because the University has switched to the Common Application.
Coleman told the Daily over the summer that as the switch to the Common Application creates more uncertainty in the admissions office, Spencer would need to better predict the yield.
“We need to sort of look at our models again and figure out how we’re going to manage this again because next year when we go to the Common Application, everybody predicts that we’re going to go up again (in applications),” Coleman said in July. “We’re going to test Ted Spencer’s ability to build this class because you know it’s going to be a big challenge.”
No figures on the number of applications submitted to the University so far this fall have been released by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Typically, specific numbers are not released until the application deadline has passed, which occurs in February.