The numbers haven’t changed much — yet. But the University’s pledge to build a more diverse campus shows promise if the school’s efforts in Detroit are any indicator of its national strategy.

The 2014 enrollment data for the University released Monday shows that this year’s freshmen class isn’t much different from that of the rest of the decade. According to the University’s Registrar reports, the Fall 2014 freshman class comprised of 3.84 percent Black students — a drop from the Fall 2013 freshman class with 4.12 percent Black students. Hispanic students also dropped to 4.48 percent from 4.72. The differences in real numbers are small, with a difference of six students for Black enrollment and two students for Hispanic enrollment. The average undergraduate enrollment for these two demographics has averaged at 4.65 percent and 4.45 percent, respectively, over the past five fall semesters.

Since being named the University’s President last spring, Mark Schlissel has called increasing the currently stagnant minority enrollment numbers as a priority. In the wake of the Prop 2 vote in Michigan, which banned affirmative action and the consideration of race in college admissions starting in 2006, the University has attempted to reconcile a declining number of minority students while maintaining constitutional admissions practices.

One such strategy has been to treat academic recruiting almost like athletic recruiting, using admissions staff as experts in different areas to become more engaged with the schools and students in their recruitment area. For Detroit Public Schools and private or charter schools in the city, this means utilizing the University’s Detroit Center.

Siarra Wainaina is a senior at Renaissance High School in Detroit, a selective-enrollment school that has a predominantly Black student body. She describes herself as a dedicated student, who does well in her classes and is respected by her teachers. She is highly involved in her school’s music program, playing clarinet for the school’s symphonic and marching bands and also participates in the orchestra. Outside of school, Wainaina is a member of Teen HYPE, a student group that educates teens about sexual health and how to obtain proper resources. Additionally, she is in a medical careers club, the National Honors Society and a religion club. Medicine and music are the two areas she wants to pursue in college.

What has helped tremendously, Wainaina said, has been the direct interaction she’s had with University admissions. Since her freshman year of high school, she has seen and spoken with staff at the University’s Detroit Center, which facilitates various Detroit-based programs such as Semester in Detroit and has its own University admissions staff. In fact, Wainaina personally knows Assistant Admissions Director, Delphine Byrd, and says Byrd makes frequent appearances to Renaissance.

“U of M is always active,” Wainaina said. “Even though a lot of the colleges now are coming up here, you still see a lot more of U of M than you see even of (Michigan) State and Bowling Green and everybody else.”

Melissa Jones, a guidance counselor at Renaissance, also said the Detroit Center and Byrd have been intensely involved with students at the school, particularly in the past couple of years, though she added that the involvement has increased from all schools across Michigan. Still, she said programs like the Victors Club, which hosts events for high school students to interact with recruiters and M-Reach through the Ross School of Business — along with frequent visits to Detroit, financial aid meetings and Ann Arbor campus visits — make the University feel much more accessible to her students.

“Ms. Byrd will come in, it’s usually around April when our seniors are admitted to U of M, and she has a big reception with balloons,” Jones said. “None of the other colleges do that, she treats them like athletes, like on the signing day. It’s really, really cool.”

Byrd said she has received positive feedback herself and that she makes an effort to keep herself fully available to faculty at most all Detroit schools.

“In terms of admissions, it’s all about building partnerships. It’s always about meeting the students where they are and helping them get to where they want to go,” Byrd said. “If Michigan is where they want to go, then we hope to provide them with the resources we have available that actually might sort of fill in some of the gaps in terms of the road they’re on.”

Erica Sanders, interim director of undergraduate admissions at the University, said in an e-mail interview that while Detroit recruitment is not necessarily a new focus for admissions, the Detroit Center has held more frequent events for students and parents, connecting them with guidance counselors and emphasizing financial aid opportunities. Generally, Sanders said Detroit recruitment involves a variety of visits, community meetings, partnership meetings and other outreach events, including an annual spring forum during which DPS principals receive feedback.

“Our first priority is to engage students and parents, to ensure students consider the opportunities available at the University of Michigan,” Sanders wrote. “Resources are provided as needed for programs as they continue to grow in size and scope.”

Sanders added that a major factor is “myth-busting” or dismissing any misperceptions students have about admissions by providing adequate information. Byrd said the adding a “personal face” to University admissions is important to her staff. She said the Detroit Center hosts application prep events at various schools in the city, including Cass Tech, King, East English Village, Western International and Renaissance.

While Jones said the academic rigor at Renaissance is high, most students accepted to the University go through the summer Bridge Program, offering University classes before freshman year for participants.

Wainaina recognizes the stereotypes put on Detroit high school students as not fit for a college experience, particularly the view of Black teens as “just going to be sitting on the corner drunk, smoking.” However, she said Renaissance students shatter that perception. Wainaina described her classmates as smart, driven and dedicated to getting into college.

“We’re very goal oriented, trying to get where we’re trying to go,” she said. “Whether it’s community college or a university, we’re trying to go to college. We’re trying to break down those stereotypes because we are more than stereotypes.”

Renaissance is one of the better performing schools in DPS, consistently sending over 95 percent of their students to college, according to Jones. In 2012, Renaissance had the second-highest high school graduation rate in DPS with a rate of 95.47 percent. However, this is far from the norm of DPS high schools, the average in 2012 being 64.74 percent. Renaissance is also a selective-enrollment high school, meaning that while being a public school, students need a minimum level of academic performance to secure admission.

Renaissance Principal Anita Williams said she has been impressed with the involvement and accessibility of University admissions staff. A former assistant principal at Detroit’s Cass Technical High School, she lauded the resources made available to Renaissance students and has even seen evidence of outreach to other DPS schools.

“They really care about the kids first,” she said, on the University’s admissions staff. “It didn’t matter that it’s Cass or it’s Renaissance. I didn’t see any difference in outreach; I didn’t see any difference in commitment.”

While Williams and many of her students have good standing with the University, the same cannot be said across all Detroit high school students.

Last spring, a By Any Means Necessary protest highlighted the cases of four students, three of them from schools in Detroit, who were denied admission to the University. The four students were members of minority groups, two Black and two Hispanic, and the protest called for the admissions office to be more active in recruiting minorities and providing resources to students of color.

The students, Brooke Kimbrough from University Prep Academy High School in Detroit, Daisha Martin from Seaholm High School in Birmingham, and Alfredo Aguirre and Mario Martinez, both from Cass Technical High School in Detroit, expressed a range of frustrations regarding the University admissions process. Kimbrough and Martin said the University didn’t give enough consideration for extracurricular activities, both being highly active outside the classroom.

However, Aguirre said there were larger issues of disenfranchisement, adding that many of his peers felt the University was inaccessible.

“It’s demoralizing how they pretty much give you the bait and take it away; they’re just playing with you,” Aguirre said last spring. “I felt the same way. Even if I’m able to get in, what is the point because I can’t pay for it?”

It’s too early to tell what Schlissel’s enrollment philosophy will be, Sanders said. Still, at least in the Detroit Center, the goals are clear and the staff is ready to take on the challenge.

Corrections appended: A previous version of this article misquoted Erica Sanders as saying that “It’s too early to tell what Schlissel’s leadership will mean for diversity. The article also incorrectly stated that the Summer Bridge program provides supplemental education instead of credit-bearing University classes. Lastly, the article also incorrectly listed Gratz v. Bollinger as directly leading to the ban on use of Affirmative Action in Michigan.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.