By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Minority applications for fall classes are up 73 percent at Xavier University. They're up 21 percent at the University of Cincinnati and 19 percent at Miami University.
In Greater Cincinnati, universities awaited the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on race-conscious admissions policies by aggressively recruiting minority students.
Monday's ruling upholding race as a factor to determine who is admitted to college isn't expected to cause dramatic changes in the way local schools select their students. None of them admits students based on the sort of "points system" ruled unconstitutional at the University of Michigan.
But local colleges and universities have become more aggressive in recruiting minorities. The University of Michigan case has been a factor, local administrators say. But so, too, has been a national effort to bring more diversity to college campuses.
Those programs, local admissions officials say, may have led to the spike in applications that could lead to a spike in enrollment as well. Numbers aren't final, but Xavier and UC already are showing increases in minority enrollments this fall.
"When I came in my first year, in every class I was the only student of color, period," says Xavier student body president Natasha Hamilton, a Cleveland senior studying history and political science. "In my third year, on average there were three or four. The numbers have tremendously changed from two years ago."
At Xavier, overall minority applications rose from 587 last year to 1,015 for classes beginning this fall. For African-Americans, applications are up 93 percent; for Hispanics, 32 percent.
So far, school officials have enrolled nine more minorities for the fall compared to last year, giving the school a minority enrollment of about 12 percent.
"What it tells me is that young people from all backgrounds identify with the messages Xavier is sending," says Marc Camille, Xavier's dean of admission. "This is a community that values diversity, a place where all people feel comfortable."
The school has been chipping away at the perception that Xavier is a rich, white school with a strong basketball program. Soon after Cincinnati's April 2001 riots, President Michael J. Graham, S.J., convened a committee to look at diversity on campus. Since then, the school has allocated money to compete with the ever-larger salaries offered to the most sought-after minority faculty candidates.
From 2000 to 2002, Xavier officials increased the number of minority faculty from 22 to 33. Minorities now make up 12 percent of the full-time faculty, compared to 8 percent in 2000. Potential students, meanwhile, are targeted as early as middle school. A program that pairs minority applicants with current Xavier students for overnight visits has expanded. The school also completed a multicultural Web site last summer.
"Long-held perceptions die a slow death," Graham says. "Perception is not always reality. A little more than 30 years ago, Xavier was an all-male, mostly white, mostly commuter university."
The stereotype is what Karla Ball, 18, had in mind before she spent time on Xavier's campus. The 2003 Finneytown High School graduate first came to Xavier's campus during a service internship program the summer after her junior year.
That experience and scholarships, including one for incoming African-Americans, helped her choose Xavier over Rowan University in New Jersey, Eastern Michigan University and the University of Dayton.
"I wouldn't have thought to go there had I not done the summer internship," Ball says. "I would have thought it was out of my league. I thought the cost would be out of control. And I didn't know if I had the grades to be accepted."
But Ball had strong essays, a solid transcript and good recommendations from her teachers.
"I learned I was highly qualified," she says.
At UC, significant progress
At the University of Cincinnati, applications from black students went from 1,311 last year to 1,537 for this fall, a 17 percent increase. Hispanic numbers jumped 51 percent - from 130 to 196. So far, confirmed admissions are up in every minority category except American Indian.
About 35 percent more African-Americans will attend UC in the fall over last year's numbers. And 16 percent more Hispanics say they plan to come.
Several recruitment programs targeting minorities have been gaining popularity. Images of Color, for example, exposes prospective African-American, Hispanic and American Indian high school juniors and seniors to UC student organizations and activities. Students also receive information about the application process and financial aid.
"If we have a trend, and those programs contributed, we want to continue to operate those programs and make sure they remain successful," UC spokesman Greg Hand says. "If we have a one-year anomaly, we don't want to discredit those programs because they've surely been helpful in maintaining diversity on our campuses."
At Miami, a different dynamic
In Oxford, minority applications are up, but the number of minorities actually enrolled is down.
The count isn't official yet, but school officials are expecting minorities to make up 6.7 percent of this fall's freshman class compared to 9.1 percent a year ago. Officials attribute the drop to applicants choosing instead to attend either Ivy League schools or historically black institutions.
Mike Mills, director of admission, says Miami is improving its reputation as a place where minority students can succeed.
More than 88 percent of minority freshmen return for their sophomore year. That compares to the national average of 63 percent for all institutions and 73 percent for selective universities, he says.
"These students are the most sought after in America today, and they have many, many options. The challenge for Miami will be to make a compelling case why Miami is the best campus for them."
Patrick Alexander, a 19-year-old Youngstown native, is already sold. He completed his freshman year at Miami and plans to complete his degree in creative writing there.
When Alexander took a campus tour, he didn't see a lot of people who looked like him -- an African-American. But he later participated in an overnight visit that changed his mind.
"There are black people achieving in the honors program, in the music program," he says. "Seeing that within the black student body has been a real attraction to students and, I can say, it has been a real attraction for me."
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