Incoming Class Suffers Drop in Diversity, Concerns Officials

Kyle Meinke, Grand Valley Lanthorn (Allendale, Michigan), September 6, 2008

Minority enrollment among incoming freshmen at Grand Valley State University dipped 29.6 percent this year, despite the school admitting its largest class in history.

GVSU enrolled 387 Asian, African American, Hispanic and American Indian students this year, down from the 550 admitted last year, according to records released by Institutional Analysis. Minorities comprise 9.8 percent of the freshman class, which falls short of the 15 percent reached the past two years.

Whites make up 89 percent of this year’s incoming freshman, while 34 students did not report their ethnicity.

“Minority enrollment is of the highest importance to Grand Valley, and this trend is of great concern,” said Lynn Blue, vice provost and dean of Academic Services. “A great deal of study will go into this.”

The dip does not come as a surprise, Blue said.

Since the recruiting cycle began last August, GVSU was receiving fewer applications from minority students, though exact figures were not available as of press time.

“We knew way back in January we would be facing a downturn,” Blue said. “Now that we can see the numbers, we’ll try to figure out where the holes are and if there are remedies to enhance our ability to generate minority.”

GVSU is not alone, she added. Maintaining minority enrollment is becoming a statewide problem because the competition is now greater for the pool of minority students looking to attend Michigan universities.

Class statistics and ethnic breakdowns are not yet available for most other Michigan schools, but more should be known in the coming weeks.

Blue and other university officials point to Proposal 2, a 2006 state law that banned race- and gender-based preference programs, as an obstacle in minority recruiting.

“This is the first class post-Proposal 2, and there is a new learning curve for us,” said Jodi Chycinski, GVSU director of admissions. “Scholarships have always been a big recruiting tool, but we can’t offer them anymore like we have in the past. We now have to rework the opportunities we provide.”

Awards, like the Bert Price Minority Scholarship, are no longer offered, which makes it more difficult to recruit minority students.

Scholarship opportunities are still available, but instead of targeting specific minorities they now reach out to students from metropolitan regions such as Chicago, Detroit, Pontiac and now Grand Rapids. The urban scholarship program offers $3,000 per year to all students who graduate from targeted schools in those areas.

Other recruitment methods—like bus tours, targeted mailings and marketing—are also focusing on minority recruiting.

But the inability to directly offer minorities financial aid and scholarships hinders GVSU’s efforts to diversify, officials said.

“Proposal 2 is a bit disappointing, but it’s the reality,” Chycinski said. “The Admissions Office must now find new ways to go about its business because this university really values diversity. There have been changes to the tools available to us for minority recruiting, but we can’t use that as an excuse.”

Despite admitting a class almost 90 percent white, the overall minority population at GVSU decreased only slightly this year, from 11.9 percent to 11.6 percent. There will be a net loss of only 23 minority students this year.

Still, the significant drop in the diversity of this year’s freshmen concerns university officials.

“Now that we have fall enrollment figures in hand and we can analyze them, we should have new information to feed our planning,” Blue said. “Now we can do some deeper analysis to identify soft spots in recruiting.”

A recruiting team of about 12 is working to execute plans that attract various demographics to campus, and minority and international student enrollment is “high priority,” Blue added.

Cortney Rush, president of the Black Student Union, said she believes diversity has improved since she arrived on campus in 2005, but it remains “scarce.”

“It’s not a good feeling to enter a classroom and be the only (minority),” she said. “I think Grand Valley needs to provide more multicultural programming.”

BSU is scheduled to host its first monthly roundtable discussion “Real Talk” on Sept. 18, which will provide a forum to discuss minority and race issues on campus, Rush said.

“It’s one thing to complain about diversity, but another thing to provide a solution,” she added.

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