Minority enrollment on the rise, but GV still trails

Derek Wolff

The amount of students of color on campus is increasing at Grand Valley State University, up to a total of 3,349, or 13.6 percent of the universities’ total undergraduate and graduate Fall 2011 enrollment of 24,662.

But those numbers still lag behind other public Michigan universities with comparable student body populations, such as Western Michigan University and Eastern Michigan University.

Eastern, based in Ypsilanti, has a total Fall 2011 enrollment of 23,341 students with a white majority of only 73 percent, according to its Institutional Research and Information Management website. Black students account for the dominant minority at Eastern with 4,639 students, or 20 percent of the university’s population. The 2010 U.S. Census for Ypsilanti reported that 29.2 percent of the city’s 19.435 residents identified as black or African-American.

Western does not offer a breakdown of minority representation, but according to the Fast Facts portion of its admissions website, 4,071 of the university’s 25,045 students in the fall of 2010 fell into the minority range, accounting for 16 percent of the school’s population. Western officials were unavailable for comment on updated 2011 figures.

Both Lynn Blue, vice provost and dean of academic services, and Jodi Chycinski, director of admissions, said they have made it a priority to recruit students from inner city areas such as Chicago and Detroit and bring them to GVSU for tours. Blue said keying in on specific areas was crucial in bringing underrepresented students to GVSU.

“It’s all about visiting the right high schools and having the right contacts within a city, and they are not necessarily with a school but are something with organizations or churches,” Blue said. “It’s bringing groups of students from underserved high schools to the campus for a visit, inviting certain groups to a football game in the fall and then an admissions tour. It’s our work in Chicago, our work in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb; there are hundreds of different tactics that are in that plan to get to where those minority applicants are.”

Jeanne Arnold, vice president for inclusion and equity, said while the 13.6 percent falls into the national average, there are still things the university can do to improve upon the figures.

“The university will continue to work hard to increase the number of underrepresented students in our community,” she said. “The percentage of students of color at traditionally white institutions in the U.S. is usually between 10 and 15 percent. At 13.6 percent currently, we’ve come a long way particularly in light of Proposition II, which is a strong barrier to access. Still, we have significant work to do and will strive to meet and exceed that 15-percent level.”

Arnold said the university is also working to increase the awareness of other cultures on campus.

“One of the many responsibilities of the division of inclusion and equity is to raise awareness about the importance of inclusion and work to enhance cultural competency skills among faculty, students and staff,” she said. “Our director of Intercultural Training, Sean Huddleston, provides a variety of workshops on these topics that are free to anyone in our university community.”

A key factor in getting minority students to come to GVSU and stay at the university is the retention rate, or the rate of turnover in which students stay at a university following their first semester or first year there. Philip Batty, director of the Office of Institutional Analysis, said he did not have a projection for minority students in the future, but the retention rate of minority students is largely the same as white students.

“The retention rate for minority students who entered GVSU as freshmen in 2010 was 80 percent, compared to 82 percent for white freshmen,” Batty said.

Arnold acknowledged that the region’s demographics, reflecting a white majority, have provided challenges to minority representation at GVSU.

“The fact that GVSU is located in a politically and religiously conservative area is a challenge,” she said. “The more culturally competent we become as a university, the more we’ll be able to positively impact the community surrounding the university.”

Arnold said the university plans on implementing a community version of the Intercultural Competence Certificate program, a 15-credit degree certification, and will use the results of climate study to implement both short and long-term solutions to increasing diversity at GVSU.

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