Minority enrollment bounces back at UM

By Maryanne George

Detroit Free Press, June 7, 2005

Aggressive recruiting — everywhere from church pulpits to the Internet — appears to have helped the University of Michigan recover minority enrollment in its incoming freshman class, which had dropped significantly in 2004, the university reported Monday.

The preliminary numbers, based on deposits for fall enrollment, show U-M’s minority enrollment is approaching levels achieved under the admissions system it used before a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2003 required an overhaul.

About 7.5% of the total deposits this year are from African Americans, compared with 7.9% in 2003.

Enrollment of Hispanic students appears to be at a historic high this year at 5.3%, compared with 4.9% in 2003. The percentages do not include international students.

U-M officials said a drop in applications last year, especially among minorities, was partly due to misinformation about the Supreme Court decision and the implementation of a new admission system.

The high court struck down a point system that awarded extra points to minorities but permitted the use of race to achieve diversity.

The new system emphasized essays, socioeconomic and family background but still included race as a factor.

U-M countered the drop in minority applications with an aggressive outreach program using videos, workshops and special appearances by President Mary Sue Coleman at churches and recruitment fairs in Detroit, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Novi.

“We had all kinds of programs this year and last year to convince students to apply to U-M,” said Ted Spencer, U-M admissions director. “We had the president stepping up all around the state dispelling the myth that Michigan was not welcoming to students of diverse backgrounds.”

But Terry Pell, a lawyer at the Center for Individual Rights in Washington, D.C., which represented the plaintiffs in the U-M admissions lawsuits, said it’s hard to determine exactly how U-M boosted its minority enrollment.

“The open question is whether U-M accepted minority applicants for the right reasons this year — their ability rather than their race,” Pell said. “Though U-M was forced to get rid of its two-track admission system, the truth is that race continues to play a large role in the U-M’s admission system.”

Enrollment deposits, considered the most reliable early indicator of final enrollment numbers, were up by more than 20% for African Americans and more than 15% for Hispanics compared with last year at the same mid-May measuring point, U-M said.

Deposits for the same period last year among African Americans were down more than 13% and rose about 2% for Hispanics.

Overall applications for this fall also increased to 23,842, up 12% over last year; total enrollment deposits are up 0.4%. This year, 6,597 students paid a deposit. Last year, 6,571 students paid deposits and 6,040 students enrolled in the fall, the largest freshman class in U-M’s history.

Final enrollment data will not be available until fall, U-M officials said.

At Michigan State University in East Lansing, African-American freshman enrollment is likely to increase 4% over last year, according to MSU spokesman Terry Denbow. Minorities represented about 16.4% of total enrollment last year, he said.

For the second straight year, freshman applications for fall are about 22,000, but fewer offers of admission are being made, Denbow said.

Last year’s freshman class was 7,412, the largest in 25 years. This year’s target is about 7,200.

At Wayne State University in Detroit, admissions among African-American students are up 27%, said Susan Zwieg, WSU’s undergraduate admissions director.

Total admissions are up 11% and transfers are up about 7%, she said.

Contact MARYANNE GEORGE at 734-665-5600 or mageorge@freepress.com.