Ashlee Ramirez vividly remembers the excitement she felt during her first few weeks on the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus last year.
She arrived early for a multicultural orientation program, where she met some old friends. She moved into a dorm designed to support Latino students, many of whom spoke Spanish and understood her experiences as a Mexican American woman.
But as the thrill of starting college began to wear off, she said: “That’s when it first hit me: now I’m attending my classes and it would be… just me who looked like me.”
U’s Twin Cities campus celebrated a milestone this fall by enrolling its most ethnically and racially diverse freshman class. Just over a third of the 6,737 incoming freshmen identify as people of color, nearly double the percentage from a decade ago. The number of Black, Hispanic and Indigenous students increased, with applications from each of these groups increasing by more than 20% over the previous year.
Students say they welcome the increase and are grateful that the U offers cultural programs – but they still hope for additional changes to help them feel supported and more empowered after they arrive.
The campus has focused on efforts to reduce disparities in academic achievement, achieving near parity in retention rates in recent years. But it’s also increasingly focused on “what else is going on in their lives,” said LeeAnn Melin, associate vice provost for student success.
“It’s not just the U of M,” she said. “It’s a national conversation.”
Colleges across the United States are adjusting their recruiting strategies as they prepare for a sharp drop in enrollment in the coming years, due in part to a declining birth rate in the early 2000s. They are also trying to reach a wider range of students as the pool of high school graduates becomes more racially and ethnically diverse.
To boost enrollment, U admissions officials say they’re relying on a mix of old and new strategies. The university has employed multicultural recruiters for decades, but now also has an associate director who focuses on expanding partnerships with community groups, learning more about the needs of young people and helping coordinate group visits. on the campus.
The U continues to offer the virtual meetings and tours it relied on during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. And he’s increasingly trying to reach students via text and social media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok.
“We are constantly looking for opportunities to help students understand college options, programs and support to help them achieve their long-term goals and dreams,” said Keri Risic, Acting Executive Director of Admissions. .
Part of that effort, Risic said, is making sure the U’s roughly two dozen admissions officers keep up to date with the kinds of services available on campus, including cultural groups.
These cultural groups are the high point of the experience for many students, said Flora Yang, president of the undergraduate student government. She said students were looking for a “more tangible commitment” to diversity after a regent’s remarks reignited a public debate about diversity on college campuses.
Different life experiences
Two months ago, Regent Steve Sviggum asked in a town hall meeting whether it was possible the U’s Morris campus had become “too diverse” from a marketing perspective. Yang – who has just applied to become a regent herself – said the students are calling on the regents to interact with them more often and address their concerns about issues such as mental health and public safety directly.
Ramirez, a sophomore, learned of Sviggum’s remarks on Instagram. She said that while her words validated how she felt on campus, “Did I really want those feelings to be true?”
Ramirez felt at home at the Mi Gente LatinX Student Cultural Center, which aims to provide a safe space for all students and promote cultural awareness. In class, she said, it sometimes felt like the differences between her life experiences and those of white students, who outnumbered her, were stark.
When given a talk on dentistry, other students in his group seemed to assume that everyone had constant access to a dentist. Not Ramirez, who was able to see one again when she enrolled in U and received health benefits.
While other students rushed to register for classes hoping they could plan a three-day weekend, Ramirez worried about registering early so he could fit into his work schedule. .
But when she thinks about what could be done to make the campus more welcoming, Ramirez said it’s partly up to the students themselves.
“I don’t think the university can do much,” she said, although she added that having more scholarships and making the financial aid process easier would be helpful.
Melin said the U continues to review its data to determine what additional programs it could offer to reduce inequality. In recent years, she said, university officials have increasingly focused on efforts to help students meet basic needs like food and housing, access health supports mental health and to obtain scholarships.
“If a student has been admitted to college, we believe they can pass and graduate,” Melin said. The goal, she said, is to support them in this effort — and it “feels different for different students.”
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