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ND, SMC see increase in black freshmen

Marcela Berrios | Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Only one year after University President Father John Jenkins articulated the need for increased diversity at Notre Dame in his inaugural address, the number of black and other minority applicants enrolled in the University this fall is up significantly – and a national publication has taken notice.

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (JBHE) completed a survey of the admissions offices of the highest-ranked national universities, and praised Notre Dame’s “concerted effort to increase the number of black and other minority students on campus.”

The JBHE said better outreach programs and an increase in the financial aid available to low-income students contributed to the 10 percent increase in the number of African-American applicants and the 44 percent increase in the enrollment of admitted black applicants at Notre Dame.

The JBHE reported 53.4 percent of admitted black applicants enrolled in the University, making it the fifth highest enrollment rate of the 30 universities in the report.

Approximately 24 percent of first-year students enrolling this semester belonged to a racial minority – and 4.7 percent of freshmen were black.

“Next year we want a solid five percent of our students to be black, and another five percent to be international, and we’re trying to get that, but the biggest problem here continues to be the insufficient financial aid,” said Dan Saracino, assistant provost for enrollment.

Saracino said regardless of ethnicity, approximately 75 percent of Notre Dame students received financial assistance in the form of loans or a portion of the University’s $70 million scholarship fund.

“We only have $1 million [aid] for all international undergraduates, which means we only have $250,000 for first-year foreign students, and with that amount we can financially help approximately 17 of them every year,” he said. “This year there were 60 international students that wanted to come here and couldn’t do it because we didn’t have enough money to help them.”

Saracino explained that he University will meet the demonstrated financial need of any United States citizen it admits, but even in these cases, the funding is limited.

“Coming up with sources of financial aid for the students who need it – whether they’re black, white or international – is our greatest challenge every year,” he said.

Saracino said Notre Dame is preparing a fundraiser drive – still in the development stages – that will ask alumni and friends of the University for contributions.

The Saint Mary’s admissions office has also made progress in its efforts to recruit more black high school students.

Last year, only one of the five admitted black applicants enrolled.

This year, the College welcomed 13 African-American first-year students, said Dan Meyer, vice president of enrollment management.

He said Saint Mary’s saw the number of black applicants double, their acceptance rate grow from 26 to 47 percent and the amount of admitted blacks that enrolled skyrocket from 20 to 72 percent.

“We made a conscientious decision last year to intensify our recruiting in more high schools in northwest Indiana and the Chicago area, where there were larger African-American populations,” Meyer said.

His office also enlisted the help of current Saint Mary’s students.

“[Current students] went to these high schools and spoke about life at Saint Mary’s,” Meyer said. “They also made phone calls and gave tours to the prospective students that visited our campus in an effort to answer all their questions and make our College more comfortable for them.”

Notre Dame also applied the same strategy.

“We have a dedicated staff of both full-time professionals and student volunteers who help us tell the story of Notre Dame,” Saracino said.

One of those students is senior Krystal Hardy, who has worked as a multicultural recruitment coordinator in the admissions office since her freshman year.

“Since the fall semester of my freshman year, I’ve had the unique opportunity to be an integral part of African-American recruitment, and have witnessed our office develop a renewed sense of commitment towards increasing the presence of African-American students at Notre Dame,” she said.

“By providing opportunities for current African-American students to help in the recruitment process, hosting phone projects to those prospective students, and expanding the annual Spring Visitation Weekend to three total events instead of a single one, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions is making a year-long effort to reach out to the most talented African-Americans around the country,” Hardy said.

Saracino said more prospective students become attracted to the Notre Dame campus life through their conversations with current students rather than brochures and Web sites.

“Our students didn’t come here because they liked the weather or because they wanted to go to school in northern Indiana – but rather because they were attracted to everything that Notre Dame represents and everything it tries to provide to its students,” he added.

Saracino partly attributed the increase in the University’s black enrollment rate to the annual Spring Visitation Weekend.

During this weekend, approximately 150 prospective students from underrepresented ethnicities visit campus and interact closely with students and faculty members.

Saracino also said the admissions office improved its outreach programs, visiting more high schools across the U.S. and sending recruiters to more countries in all continents.

However, he said without more financial aid opportunities, only a limited number of applicants in any given region and from any given background can really afford a Notre Dame education – a challenge Saint Mary’s has encountered as well.

“Many students look at the price sticker on a Saint Mary’s or Notre Dame education and they are immediately discouraged from applying,” Meyer said.

“This year we did a better job following up on our applicants and informing them of the scholarships and financial aid opportunities available to them, and even though we’re happy with the results, we think we can still attract more students from all backgrounds,” he added.

Both Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame took significant steps toward that goal this year.

The JBHE survey said only the University of Chicago’s 52 percent increase in the number of black first-year students surpassed Notre Dame’s progress.

The University of North Carolina had the highest percentage of African-American students – 12.3 percent – in its freshman class.

Stanford University and Duke University followed with approximately 10 percent.