A New Route to Racial Diversity

Texas A&M raises minority enrollments without race-conscious admissions

By Peter Schmidt

The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 28, 2005


Texas A&M University at College Station has undertaken a multi-pronged effort to enroll more minority students without considering race in admissions decisions. Its key elements:

Dispersed Recruiters

Until this academic year, Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin had jointly operated several “outreach centers” around the state, their goal being to get more minority students interested in college. Texas A&M’s president, Robert M. Gates, has abandoned that effort and instead established six “prospective-student centers” geared toward gloves-off competition for students. His university has moved most of its recruiters from the College Station campus to these outposts, located in Corpus Christi, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and the Brazos and Rio Grande Valleys.

Financial-Aid Outreach

Texas A&M has spent about $2-million to staff each of its prospective-student centers with a financial-aid officer who can visit local families and schools and talk people through the process of applying for aid. “Instead of the community coming to us, we are going to the community,” says Arnold Trejo, the university’s executive director of student financial aid. “If you want us in your home, at your kitchen table, advising you about college costs and affordability, we will do that.”

Minority Alumni as Ambassadors

The university has mobilized the members of its black and Hispanic alumni associations to visit homes, schedule or hold local recruitment events, and otherwise assist its outreach efforts. Much of the attention of its staff recruiters and alumni volunteers is focused on high schools in low-income areas with large minority populations. The university has also sought to build relationships with churches that have congregations consisting mainly of minority members from a wide range of economic backgrounds.

Prospective Students as ‘VIP’s’

Texas A&M has established a new Very Important Prospects, or VIP, campus-visit program for students from high schools with large minority populations. Instead of asking students in a distant city to show up at some central location to catch a bus to the campus, it sends a van or sport-utility vehicle to their high school’s door. Once on the campus, students are welcomed by top university officials, walked through how to apply for financial aid and scholarships, and dispersed to private meetings with students and faculty members from the academic departments that attract their interest.

Recruitment for the Corps

A linchpin of Texas A&M’s new minority-recruitment strategy is its military-training program, the Corps of Cadets. Realizing that black and Hispanic students each account for about a third of those enlisted in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs in high schools, the university has greatly expanded a program that brings JROTC participants to its campus for four days of leadership training. This year it plans to bring about 370 JROTC participants to the campus–nearly three times as many as two years ago–and to eventually enroll 150 to 200, about half of them black or Hispanic. “If we are just fishing in this prospect pool, diversity is taking care of itself,” says Sgt. Major Dennis L. Hastings, the Corps of Cadets’ assistant director in charge of recruiting.

First-Generation Scholarships

President Gates has set aside $3-million for a new scholarship program that provides awards of up to $5,000 a year to first-generation college students from families with annual incomes below the state’s median of $40,000. More than half of the 620 incoming freshmen who received such scholarships last fall were black or Hispanic.

Enlistment of School Officials

At selected high schools with large minority enrollments, Texas A&M has been telling administrators that it has set aside 10 scholarships, worth $3,000 each, for their school’s students. Mr. Trejo, the student-aid director, says officials at the schools have “loved it” and “in essence became involved in our targeted recruitment efforts.” President Gates also has been personally visiting urban high schools to convey the priority he has placed on minority recruitment and to drum up interest in Texas A&M among the schools’ administrators.

Bidding for Students

Mr. Gates set aside about $500,000 to enable the university’s financial-aid office to make counteroffers to students who have been offered scholarships from another institution.

A View Beyond the Freshman Year

The university has pumped $1-million into programs intended to help it retain and graduate those minority students already on campus. At the graduate level, President Gates dedicated $1.25-million to a new fellowship program intended to bring more minority students to the campus and to build relationships between Texas A&M and the faculty members of colleges with large minority populations.