ATHENS—The number of African-American freshmen enrolling at the University of Georgia this fall is lower than at any time in recent history, despite efforts to increase the number of black students.
Only 202 black students are expected to enroll as first-time freshmen when the flagship university opens next week for the fall semester, according to the UGA admissions office.
That’s a 26 percent decline from fall 2003, when 273 black students enrolled as freshmen. And it’s fewer than in 2001—the year after a federal judge ruled UGA could not use race as a factor for admissions—when the university enrolled only 207 black freshmen.
African-Americans will make up 4.5 percent of the fall 2004 freshman class, officials said, compared with 5.3 percent last year.
Admissions director Nancy McDuff said many qualified black applicants—from Georgia and elsewhere—are courted by out-of-state and private schools, many offering more financial aid than UGA.
“Would we like more? Yes, we really would,” McDuff said. “We seem to be stuck in a problem we can’t seem to get out of. We’re competing with the best schools in the country for the best students.”
Since UGA was forced to abandon its race-conscious admissions policy, the university has struggled to attract qualified black students. Two years ago, the school stationed recruiters in DeKalb County and Tifton in South Georgia to target minority populations. Last year, UGA opened an office of institutional diversity to address recruiting and retention of minority students.
UGA plans to put a second recruiter in Tifton this year, McDuff said. In September, members of the University Council will begin discussing policy changes that could again include using race, among other criteria, as a factor in admissions.
“We’re not going to stop trying,” she said.
UGA ranks below Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Georgia Southern and nearly all of the Southeastern states’ flagship universities in percentage of African-American freshmen.
Black students made up 23 percent of the freshman class enrolled in Georgia’s 34 public colleges and universities in fall 2003. This fall, Georgia Tech expects its freshman class to be 6 percent African-American. Georgia State University’s black enrollment is expected to top 30 percent. Almost 12 percent of the fall 2003 freshman class at the University of North Carolina were African-Americans. At South Carolina, 10 percent of the 2003 freshmen were black.
Hard to explain
UGA actually accepted a higher percentage of black applicants for this fall than in previous years. Of the 1,000 freshman applicants, officials said, 580 were offered admission. Only 35 percent of them are expected to enroll.
Last year, 933 African-Americans applied as freshmen and UGA offered admission to 521. A little more than half of that number enrolled.
Keith Parker, associate provost for institutional diversity, said he could not explain the decline. “It’s something I need to have a conversation with my colleagues about,” he said.
Parker said he and admissions officials made regular visits to high school classes, PTA meetings and community events to recruit the state’s top black students. Members of the faculty and administrators made personal calls to students who had been accepted, urging them to enroll, he said.
UGA has also used black students already enrolled to recruit potential freshmen, in an effort to dispel the perception that the university is not a welcoming environment for African-Americans.
More scholarship money would help, Parker said. Although most Georgians accepted as students by UGA qualify for the HOPE scholarship, which covers tuition, fees and books, many students can’t afford housing and other living expenses.
“We know we need to find ways to put financial aid packages together to make us much more competitive than we are at the moment,” Parker said.
Black enrollment has been affected on a national level by tuition increases at public universities, declining need-based financial aid and abandonment of affirmative action policies, said Robert Atwell, president emeritus of the American Council on Educa- tion.
Basing admission on test scores is often unfair to minority students, Atwell said.
“It is clearly the case that higher education competition on the basis of the test scores of entering students works against low-income and minority students,” he wrote in a report released last month. “To determine human potential requires more than testing.”
UGA bases much of its admissions on standardized test scores and grade point averages. Officials cite statistics from 2001 that show fewer than 1,500 Georgia high school students scored above 1000 on the SAT.
Black applicants are admitted to UGA based on the same testing criteria as other students, said Del Dunn, the university’s vice president for instruction. The average SAT for the incoming freshman class is 1237. The average for incoming black students in 1107. About 25 percent of all incoming freshmen scored below 1150, Dunn said.
But admissions officials say they also examine applicants individually, weighing their potential benefit to the campus in addition to academic criteria.
A student who has shown particular determination to pursue higher education, for example, might be admitted despite slightly lower SAT scores and high school grades. The university also tips the scales slightly to favor students who would be the first in their family to attend college or who would offer a talent that might benefit the school. In addition to athletes—who account for 17 of the incoming African-American students—they could include band members or theater majors, for example.
UGA also automatically admits the valedictorian and salutatorian from any accredited high school in Georgia if they apply.
“We have kids with better than a 1300 [SAT score] we’ve said no to, we’ve had kids with a 4.0 [GPA] we’ve said no to,” McDuff said in an interview last month. “We have kids with an SAT of 900 that we’ve admitted.”
A total of 4,495 freshmen are expected to enroll at UGA next week, a decrease of 695 students from last year. UGA is deliberately enrolling a smaller class to keep total enrollment at capacity and to comply with Board of Regents limits on admissions.
More than 80 percent of incoming freshmen are Georgia residents, and 61 percent are female. More than 15 percent are minorities, which include Asian-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans in addition to African- Americans.