For hundreds of underrepresented minorities, an acceptance letter from the University is the culmination of years of recruitment efforts by various groups associated with the University but the work does not stop there.
Once minority high school students are accepted to the University, more efforts are made to ensure that they enroll, and after enrollment the University community continues its efforts, striving to provide an environment that keeps students from leaving before graduation.
From student groups to University-related outreach programs to alumni clubs, a network of people undertake the task of showing underrepresented minorities “that higher education is not as impossible as sometimes it seems,” said LSA sophomore Celso Cardenas.
Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans are identified as underrepresented minorities, and recruiters target these groups because statistics show they are the least likely to seek a college education.
Hispanic students are the youngest and fastest-growing part of the population, and yet they are among the least likely to attend college.
Donney Moroney, coordinator in the Office of Multi-ethnic Student Affairs, said she worries that this trend will lead to a country in which a sizable Hispanic population will not be represented in the leadership of society.
A two-way exchange brings middle and high school students to Ann Arbor from around the Midwest to expose them to a college environment. Classes and other programs take University students to targeted communities as tutors and mentors.
The programs are aimed particularly at under-represented minorities to let them know that higher education is a realistic option even if none of their relatives have attended college.
Programs continue through high school and the college application process.
“Admissions only accept students that we think will be successful,” said Jim Vanhecke, senior assistant director of undergraduate admissions. “We try to step up minority recruitment to ensure that we have a diverse class.”
Once qualified students have been accepted to the University, the task shifts from convincing them that higher education is necessary to persuading them that the University is the right place.
“We try to recruit as many of our underrepresented individuals as personally as possible,” Vanhecke said. He pointed to the annual Spring Welcome Day that attracted approximately 800 prospective students from around the country to be introduced to the campus this year, one of the largest turnouts ever.
Volunteers also make personal telephone calls to under-represented minority students who have been accepted to answer any questions the prospective students may have.
“Michigan is not behind anyone,” Vanhecke said. “From what I can see, we are at the forefront of recruitment.”
However, the University does have problems keeping under-represented minority students enrolled, Moroney said.
Retention rates are significantly lower for underrepresented minorities than other groups. The most recent available statistics show that six years after enrolling as undergraduates, 53 percent of Native American students, 59 percent of blacks and 69 percent of Hispanics earned a University diploma. In contrast, 86 percent of white students and 87 percent of Asian Americans graduate in six years.
Any combination of a number of motives influence students to withdraw from the University, but LSA sophomore Rosio Suarez said some students are disheartened when they come to the University “expecting to find a big community, and they don”t.”
“Students feel culturally unsafe, insecure,” Moroney said.
In order to combat feelings of isolation and loneliness, student groups make an effort to create a niche where students can feel comfortable and relate to each other, Moroney added.
“NASA serves as a place where students can come and share something similar,” said Engineering senior Darren Goetz, a co-chair of the Native American Student Association.
While some Native American students come to the University from urban upbringings, others come from more traditional backgrounds or reservations, he said.
“If you”re religious, it”s analogous to going to a place where there aren”t any churches,” Goetz added. Student groups provide a “home away from home” that make the University more friendly.