Data released yesterday by University officials show that the University student population has reached an all-time record. This year, there has also been a rise in underrepresented minority students in the freshman class — though officials admitted that because of new reporting procedures, this year’s numbers are not directly comparable to those from year’s past.
The Office of the Registrar reported yesterday morning that overall enrollment for the University’s Ann Arbor campus is at 41,924 students for the fall semester, 250 more than the previous record set last fall. The rise reflects 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 predicted over the summer that freshman 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 yesterday show that the number was even higher than predicted, with 6,496 freshmen enrolled at the University this fall.
Perhaps most notable in the data released yesterday is an increase in the underrepresented minority student community at the University this year. 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 due in part to revised reporting guidelines under the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which has altered the way student ethnicity data are collected and reported.
Students previously self-reported their primary ethnicity, which could include “other.” Under the new guidelines, students must choose only from the list of ethnicities provided, but are allowed to select multiple ethnicities if they identify with more than one group.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily yesterday, University Provost Philip Hanlon said he was heartened to see the number of underrepresented minority students in the freshman class increasing.
“It remains a very high priority to have a class that is diverse across every possible dimension,” Hanlon said. “We think that benefits the entire University community and the learning of all students to be part of a diverse class.”
However, Hanlon said he would like to see the number of overall students at the University decrease in future years.
“I think that we are probably at a larger enrollment than I would feel comfortable at and I think President Coleman as well,” Hanlon said. “So we’re going to be working hard to try to hit our targets and bring that back down a little bit over a period of years.”
Hanlon’s comments were consistent with what several University administrators — including Coleman — have said over the past two years.
“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 in an interview 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.”
But while officials say they want to reduce class sizes to provide a better experience at the University for all students, incoming classes have continued to grow over the past few years. Though many factors can be cited for the increase, the primary reason is uncertainty in predicting how many accepted students will enroll.
In 2009, then-University Provost Teresa Sullivan said she believed the economic downturn was partially responsible for such uncertainty.
Though the economy may play a lesser role this year, the problem is likely to become even greater in this year’s admissions process. Enrollment estimates have become even more unpredictable now that the University has adopted the Common Application this year.
Hanlon said yesterday that he expects the University to receive a great deal more applications from prospective freshmen because of the ease of the Common Application. The result could be that the rate of students admitted to the University who decide to attend — known as the yield of enrollment — could be lower. Hanlon added that it’s unclear right now how much lower the yield could be.
“That makes it even more challenging this year,” Hanlon said. “At least based on what we’ve seen so far, we’ll have many more applications, probably 10,000 or more additional applications than we did last year.”
Hanlon explained, “The easier it is to apply, the more people with lower interest (in attending the University) that will apply because it’s easy.”
Hanlon said that a surge in applications with that demographic would likely result in a lower enrollment this year. He added that University officials will have to examine trends at other schools that have switched to the Common Application to help predict what the new enrollment rate may be.
Similarly, Coleman said in an interview in July that switching to the Common Application could make predicting the yield more difficult for Ted Spencer, the director of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.
“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. “We’re going to test Ted Spencer’s ability to build this class because you know it’s going to be a big challenge.”
But another major challenge University officials face is maintaining growth in the number of underrepresented minority students at the University. This year is the first year since 2003 that the number of underrepresented minority students increased as a percentage of the total student population, and the first year since 2005 it increased as a real number.
But in a statement released this morning, Lester Monts, the senior vice provost for academic affairs at the University, said this year’s data demonstrates that the University is continuing to uphold its 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, speaking to the high academic caliber of the incoming class. “We have upheld that tradition with this exceptional entering class.”
Legal restrictions like the state-wide ban on affirmative action approved by voters in 2006, paired with the University’s rigorous standards, are both realities that admissions officers must face when considering who to admit 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 in an interview last year. “But we’re going to do everything we can to start early outreach programs, identifying students in the ninth, tenth grade.”
Along with Spencer, numerous University officials — including both Coleman and Hanlon — have repeatedly told The Michigan Daily that the University must continue to work toward building a more diverse student body.
“It’s concerning to us,” Coleman said at this time last year of the decreases experienced in underrepresented minority enrollment. “I don’t think there’s a silver bullet, but we have to be more aggressive.”
Among those efforts are numerous outreach and awareness programs, as well as ongoing efforts by University leaders like E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs, and Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones to help improve the campus climate for current and potential students.