Minority numbers to jump slightly

Amy Hamblin

Although Northwestern administrators said they are excited about an expected increase in minority students this fall, the university may bear additional costs because of an underestimation of the amount of financial aid needed by underrepresented minorities, an NU official said Thursday.

This year the Office of Financial Aid underestimated how much the average incoming student’s family could contribute by about $3,000 for all students who applied for aid, and $4,000 to $5,000 for black and Latino students who applied for aid, said Rebecca Dixon, associate provost for university enrollment.

Officials do not know the exact cost of the error, Dixon said, because freshmen may continue to request readjustments to their aid packages. Families usually request more aid when they believe the university overlooked special circumstances.

The increased “neediness” of the class of 2008 could be a result of the increase in enrollment for underrepresented minorities, Dixon said. Both black and Latino enrollment increased significantly, along with that of Native Americans. The percentage of students receiving financial aid packages remains the same, but those qualifying for aid need larger packages than expected.

Although the numbers could change, 111 black students currently are set to attend NU, comprising 5.7 percent of the incoming class. Last year 89 black students enrolled, making up 4.6 percent of the freshman class. Latinos also make up a larger portion with 124 set to attend in the fall compared to last year’s 104. Five Native Americans are expected to come next year, compared to two who enrolled last year.

“The diversity is really terrific if it holds,” Dixon said. “We really are competing hard for underrepresented minorities.”

The numbers have not been finalized for the ethnic breakdown of the incoming class, even though May 1 was the official deadline for admitted students to confirm their acceptance. Students who are taken off the wait list for other colleges sometimes inform NU in mid-summer of their decision to switch schools.

Dixon added that the university “pulled out all the stops” to increase underrepresented minorities this year, after numbers dipped last year. Underrepresented minorities include blacks, Latinos and Native Americans but not Asians, she said. Similar methods were used in other years, but more effort was put into recruitment this year.

As part of the stronger effort to recruit, NU flew 103 low-income students to campus for Preview NU, costing the university $36,200. Last year the university only paid for 83 students’ airfare for Preview NU.

Dixon also attributes the increase to “personalized attention,” such as having staff calling admitted students to ensure that they turn in their forms. Many of the underrepresented minority students are the first in their family to go college, so they are not familiar with the process and paperwork involved, she said.

Alysa Handelsman, co-president of the Latino group Alianza, said the rise in Latino students isn’t surprising given the growing efforts and resources to recruit them. She is part of a group of students who volunteer with the two Latino recruitment officers to make calls to prospective students.

“With the numbers going up, I’m very excited,” said Handelsman, a Weinberg sophomore. “I want to build this community. I want to see us have a stronger presence on campus.”

Ketica Guter, coordinator for the black student alliance For Members Only, said similar measures are taken in the black community to recruit black students. Hosting prospective black students can often sway them to come to NU, she said.

“I am very happy with the number because the goal of the undergraduate admissions office was reached,” said Guter, a Weinberg sophomore.