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Diversity recruitment a University priority

Joseph McMahon | Friday, September 18, 2009

The class of 2013 has been touted as the most academically accomplished group in Notre Dame’s history as well as the most diverse the University has had in the past three years.

But despite the increase in overall diversity, this year’s class was lacking in both black and international students.

“The success that we’re having with Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans, we expect, will continue,” Director of Undergraduate Admissions Dan Saracino said. “Last year was our best year and we want to continue.”

This year’s class is made up of 23 percent ethnic minorities – 10 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Asian, 3 percent black, 3 percent international students and 1 percent Native American.

“The two areas where we really came up short were African Americans and the internationals,” Saracino said. “Those are two groups of students that we want more of at Notre Dame.”

Saracino said more black students were admitted to Notre Dame last year, but the issue was simply that fewer chose to enroll at the University.

“If we had a yield like the previous year, we would have been closer to 5 percent [black students],” he said. “The yield was in the 30 percent-range.”

Saracino said one of the chief reasons many black students did not attend Notre Dame was they were offered spots at other top colleges.

“They are going to excellent, Ivy League-type schools,” he said. “We’re up against tough competition.”

Jarred Carter, president of Wabruda, the black men’s association on campus, said he knew of many students who chose to attend other top-notch universities over Notre Dame.

“As far as prestige-wise, just based off the name, a lot of kids are going to choose Ivy League schools,” he said.

President of the African Students Association Brigitte Githinji said the difficulty of obtaining financial aid at Notre Dame forces many black students to choose other institutions.

“If you’re going to stipulate that they have to follow all these rules before they can get the package, they’re going to go to other schools where they are getting full rides,” she said.

Saracino said the administration remains committed to meeting the full need of anyone who is accepted to Notre Dame, something that has helped the school become more diverse over the years.

“It wouldn’t be possible without the incredible commitment of the administration here, including [University President] Fr. John Jenkins, to financial aid,” he said.

Saracino also said the University has just instituted the new Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars Program, which has an endowment of $35 million. The program will provide 20 top students in Notre Dame’s incoming class with $25,000 annually.

“It will be based on academics and it will be students who we believe have the potential to be transformational leaders,” he said. “We want someone who is really going to make a difference … We want someone like a Fr. Hesburgh.”

Saracino said as the University has become more diverse, it was natural they would also have to increase the funds for financial aid.

“The University is still trying to increase the amount of aid for needy students because we are increasing the amount of students that need money,” he said.

However, another problem for prospective black students is that there are not many other black students currently here.

“We still don’t have that critical mass of African-American students where recruiting becomes a little bit easier,” Saracino said. “Right now I think, because we don’t have that critical mass, there are some students who are just saying, ‘It is too white for me.'”

Carter said one shocking statistic was only 69 members of the current freshman class are black, and 11 of those are athletes.

“What kind of message does that send?” he said.

Saracino said recruiters are already actively recruiting black students in Chicago and New Orleans, and events featuring prominent alumni and current students are being planned for those cities.

“Chicago is in our backyard,” he said. “And we’ve always been getting African Americans out of New Orleans and it is a high percentage of Catholic African Americans.”

Saracino also said alumni are crucial to all recruiting efforts.

“The alumni can help us more by personally contacting the students in their area who should be thinking of Notre Dame,” he said. “Alumni locally have to help and, with greater contact over the course of the year, we think that we can boost the yield.”

Saracino said the University has also stepped up efforts recruiting internationally. Traditionally, Notre Dame has only recruited in Latin America and some Asian countries, but this year marks the first time recruiters are targeting Europe.

“We have a person who is working out of Paris … and she is going to going to Ireland, London, Spain, France and Germany,” he said.

Saracino said he would like to increase the number of minority students to 25 percent next year, with 4 percent black students and 4 percent international.

“That would be a goal, and if we could go past that it would be great,” he said.

Long-term, Saracino said he would like to see Notre Dame’s student body composed of 30 percent minority students.

“The University expects that of us – building a class that is stronger and more diverse each year,” he said. “We’re not trying to change Notre Dame, we’re trying to make it a better Notre Dame.”