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Freshman class lacks diversity

Joseph McMahon | Friday, September 19, 2008

The current freshman class has been heralded as the most academically accomplished group in the University’s history, with average SAT scores of 1405. But the class of 2012 is also Notre Dame’s least ethnically diverse in the past three years.

Twenty percent of the class of 2012 is composed of domestic ethnic minorities, a drop from 22 percent last year and 24 percent two years ago. Three percent of the class is composed of international students.

“There are a lot of good things to say about this current class: It is the strongest class in our history, almost 50 percent of the students are on financial aid and we have great diversity in a number of areas,” Assistant Provost for Admissions Dan Saracino said. “But with the ethnic minorities and the international students, we’re not where we want to be.”

Saracino said the two-year drop doesn’t necessarily qualify as a trend, but if the percentage continues to fall, it would present a serious problem for the University.

“I’m not sure it’s a trend. Two years in a row isn’t necessarily a trend. Three years, I would say, would be a serious trend, and we aim to change it,” he said. “Both of those areas have jumped to the top of our priorities for next year’s class to make sure that it is not a trend.”

Associate Director for Admissions Gil Martinez said the competition among elite universities for top diversity students has increased in recent years.

“As the competition to get into Notre Dame has become more and more difficult, and we’re shooting for better and better students, with the diversity students especially, we’re finding ourselves in competition with other universities and colleges across the country. We’re playing in the leagues now with the ivy leagues, Stanford, Rice, and Duke,” he said.

Martinez said the decrease in diversity students has resulted mainly from a drop in black students. While the numbers for Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans have remained consistent, the percentage of black students at the University has fallen from five percent to three percent over the past two years.

“The major drop was in African American students, and those are students that we have to recruit hard because they don’t necessarily grow up thinking ‘Notre Dame is where I want to go,'” Martinez said.

Both Saracino and Martinez said the University has launched an aggressive new recruiting program to tap into the pool of ethnically diverse students in Chicago.

“We’re trying to focus on, without ignoring other areas, Chicago. There are a significant number of African Americans in Chicago who we feel would be interested in Notre Dame,” Saracino said.

Matt Tipton, the president of the black men’s group Wabruda agreed with Martinez’s assessment that a lot of African Americans grow up without knowing about Notre Dame. For many of his friends at Notre Dame, this was true.

“A lot of African Americans don’t know about Notre Dame and they don’t know where it is,” he said.

Martinez said recruiters were in the process of acquiring locations in Chicago where they could organize information sessions for black parents and high school students who might be interested in the University. He said one of the biggest challenges was simply informing students about how close Notre Dame is to Chicago.

“It amazes me how many diversity students from Chicago don’t even know where Notre Dame is. … People don’t realize that we’re only 90 miles away,” Martinez said. “[The information sessions are] just to talk about Notre Dame, to get them think about it, and to remind them how close we are.”

In addition, Martinez said the University recently changed its financial aid policy, although no public announcement was made. Despite the fact that the school doesn’t offer full financial aid to anyone whose family makes less than $40,000 like Harvard. Martinez said it will help the school recruit more diversity students.

“The school did change its policy so that we could be players in the game, but it wasn’t a public announcement,” he said. “We weren’t going to make an announcement, but what we want to do is find the people that truly do need it. Different families will use accounting that will benefit them the best, but we look at a more holistic view.”

Martinez did not elaborate on the changes to the financial aid policy.

Recruiters have also been expanding internationally, Saracino said.

“We have been focusing on Latin America and some recruitment in Asia,” he said. “We’re going to do some more recruitment in Asia and long term we’re considering doing some more recruitment in Europe,” he said.

Tipton, who grew up in Gary, Ind., said the University’s admissions counselors would have to look outside SAT scores and GPAs to find many top-tier diversity students, especially those who were raised in economically-disadvantaged neighborhoods.

“I wish they could look more behind the numbers, more behind the GPA. SAT scores don’t tell everything about a student. A lot of these kids are disadvantaged, they don’t have the resources to study for the SAT like other kids do,” he said. “Growing up in Gary, Ind., the surroundings aren’t conducive to learning.”

Saracino said he hopes these aggressive recruiting programs help increase the percentage of diversity students to last year’s level.

“Anything less than 22 percent [ethnic minority] for next year’s incoming class would be considered a definite disappointment,” he said. “Our other goal is to increase the international student percentage from 3 percent to 4 percent.”

Saracino was quick to note these are goals, not quotas, for next year’s class.

In the long term, Saracino said he would like to increase the ethnic minority percentage to 30 percent within 5 years as well as raise the percentage of international students while still maintaining the University’s Catholic percentage at around 80 percent.