NU efforts increase diversity

Ashley Lau

Increased efforts by Northwestern to attract more minority students led to record growth in the number of applications received from black and Latino students, said Michael Mills, associate provost for university enrollment..

“The Latino increase is probably the biggest it’s ever been,” he said. “For African-Americans, it may be the biggest; it’s certainly one of the biggest.”

The number of Latino students applying to NU increased 49 percent, while applications from black students are up 22 percent compared to last year, as the university continues to tally applications arriving this week.

“This past year, the fall ’08 entering class was unusual in how bad it was,” Mills said. “I mean, it just dropped like crazy. By mid-May last year, we knew something had gone wrong.”

After only 87 black freshmen matriculated at NU this past Fall Quarter, the university decided this year to waive the application fee for all Chicago Public Schools students and work more closely with both NU’s Council of Latino Admission Volunteers for Education and NU Ambassadors, a recruitment organization focused on attracting black students. Current NU students also participated in phon-a-thons, hosted prospective students, planned activities and made personal connections through e-mails and letters.

“I think a large part of it is due to the heavy student activism towards minority enrollment,” said Weinberg senior Aldo Gallardo, president of Alianza, the largest Latino student organization on campus. “I can speak for at least the Latino community. I think this year out of my four years has had the most active recruitment, especially on the part of students.”

The largest new initiative was a one-day “Why Northwestern?” program hosted by the Office of Undergraduate Admission in October. The event attracted more than 200 Chicago Public Schools students who listened to a panel of 12 NU students, received information about admissions and financial aid and toured the campus.

“I think student outreach is very important,” said Marcus Shepard, a Communication sophomore and former president of the African American Freshman Activities Board. “I know me, as a student, when I was looking at colleges and you see someone who looks like you or comes from a similar background, it’s kind of encouraging to see that, well, if they can thrive at such a prestigious university, than so can I.”

For the first time, the university also sent current NU students back to their home high schools – the first group of students went back during Winter Break and another group will be going back during Spring Break.

“We are taking measures to make sure that we are showing our prospective black students the better side of Northwestern,” said Communication senior Zachary Parker, coordinator of For Members Only, the largest black student organization at NU.

But high application numbers, and even high acceptances, do not always translate to high enrollment, Mills warned.

“We want people to interpret this cautiously,” Mills said. “Last year we set records for the same things, for African-American and Latino applicants. Now, we set another record. So that’s only half of the equation. Now, the hard work begins with convincing these students to choose Northwestern. That’s where things fell apart last year. So hopefully that won’t happen again this year.”

Although only 87 black students decided to enroll in the class of 2012, according to admissions statistics, more than 300 students were initially accepted last year.

“To me, it’s never really been a problem about getting students to apply, and then also getting the students to even be accepted,” Shepard said. “It’s about getting them to walk in through the gates of Northwestern and really about getting them enrolled at Northwestern.”

Gallardo said he believes the issue of enrollment diversity extends beyond race and also largely encompasses a lack of socioeconomic diversity.

“Some students of color can’t afford to come to Northwestern, and other schools are kind of stealing away our students, due to better or great financial aid packages,” Gallardo said.

Parker also echoed the need for a greater emphasis on financial aid and subsequent socioeconomic diversity.

“Although we’re pleased that 20 percent more African-Americans applied to Northwestern than they did last year, I’m eager to know: where do they fall into the socioeconomic level?” Parker said. “I would put my money on the fact that the majority of the students that come here would not be of the lower socioeconomic level. I would argue we need more students from that bracket at Northwestern in general, not just black students, but in general.”

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