This fall, Cornell enrolled 682 black undergraduates in the University, the highest total in over two decades. The number represents an increase of 26 students from last year’s figure and includes 192 black freshmen, the second-highest total in the Ivy League.
Recently ranked last in the Ivies by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education in terms of black freshmen as a percentage of the total first-year student population, Cornell has worked hard to compete with some of its peer institutions for talented African-American applicants. On-campus programs and recruitment in inner-city public schools are a few of the methods employed by the Undergraduate Admissions Office in order to reach out to black and other minority students, and those efforts have paid off in a steady increase in black student enrollment.
“Our fall Multicultural Visitation Program brings roughly 200 underrepresented students of color to campus for two nights,” explained Angela Herrera, assistant director of multicultural recruitment and CU Image advisor. “We charter buses from New York City and the DC/Maryland area to ensure that students who may not be able to visit on their own have that opportunity.”
Recruitment at inner-city public schools, Herrera continued, is an especially important way for Cornell to reach underrepresented minorities, such as black students, and inform them of the advantages and opportunities available on campus.
“Several of our staff members are quite active with…the Association of Black Admissions and Financial Aid Officers of the Ivy League and Sister Schools,” Herrera said, “an organization that connects Cornell with African American students, among other underrepresented students of color, through outreach an annual college access workshops and college fairs in Metro New York City and Philadelphia.”
As a result of these efforts, more underrepresented minorities have applied to the University than ever before. According to Herrera, applications from underrepresented minority students have increased by 52 percent over the last three years. In large part, Herrera explained, this success can be attributed to the relationships Cornell has developed with organizations outside of the University that work to give minority students an opportunity to pursue higher education.
“We … continue to build relationships with community-based agencies and scholars programs, such as the Washington Metropolitan Scholars … an organization that recognizes the top African American high school students from the Greater Washington D.C. Metro area,” Herrera said, “[resulting] in Cornell enrolling more WMS students this year than any other college or university in the country.”
With Cornell improving steadily in its recruitment of minority students, the University has begun to tackle the issue of financial aid, a topic that has concerned student leaders of minority groups in the past. Today, Cornell offers 100 to 200 near-full scholarships to students from families with adjusted gross incomes of $25,000 or less, according to a recent article in the Cornell Chronicle. Cornell hopes that these scholarships will translate into a higher enrollment of minority students, many of whom might otherwise consider a different university offering a more generous financial aid package.
“These packages are our way of making sure we can recruit high-quality students of color as well as low-income students from farms, from families with no previous college graduates and from high schools that have low numbers of students going to four-year colleges,” Doris Davis, associate provost for admissions and enrollment, told the Chronicle.
Cornell’s effort to improve its financial aid packages for low-income students comes at an opportune time. The non-profit Institute for Higher Education Policy contended recently that in 2003, 80 percent of high-income high school graduates had enrolled in some form of college or university by the following October, compared to only 53 percent of low-income high school grads. In a school where tuition can run upwards of $40,000 a year, members of the undergraduate admissions department have taken notice that more needs to be done to recruit underrepresented and underprivileged minorities to campus.
“We know that financial aid will always be a major concern for students,” Herrera said. “We help students understand the investment in a Cornell education and the ways to finance a Cornell education by sharing important information with families and students as they begin their college search process.”
In its effort to make college more affordable for lower income students, Cornell earmarked almost $117 million of Cornell’s Ithaca campus 2006-07 annual budget for undergraduate financial aid. According to Herrera, that figure could soon grow with the announcement of Cornell’s Capital campaign.
“We’re … excited that the recently announced Cornell Campaign has as one of its top priorities creating more financing opportunities for low-income students,” Herrera said.
That comes as good news to Justin Davis ’07, president of Black Students United (BSU). Davis was encouraged by the steady improvement Cornell has made in its recruitment of minority and especially of black students. Still, he said, Cornell needs to put more money behind its minority recruitment campaign.
“The minority recruitment department in the undergraduate admissions office is doing a good job with the resources that it has,” Davis said, “but more resources and more funding need to be given to undergraduate admissions so that they can go to inner-city public schools and rural schools to recruit. Cornell is attempting to look at the problem, but there is too much analyzing and not enough doing.”
One of the problems with Cornell’s efforts to recruit minority students, Davis explained, is the University’s use of the term ‘diversity.’ Davis said that the issue of minority recruitment must be dealt with more clearly for Cornell to recruit a larger underrepresented and underprivileged minority population.
“The administration needs to be clearer about what diversity recruitment issues are,” Davis said. “If it’s race then say race, class then say class. The more convoluted the rhetoric the more dazzling it sounds to people who only want to place a band-aid over the problem and not patch the wound.”
Like Herrera, Davis hopes that the Capital Campaign will give the University the resources it needs to recruit qualified minority students. Resources, he said, as well as a thoughtfully constructed recruitment plan, are the keys to attracting more minority students to Cornell.
“I applaud the University’s efforts [to recruit minority students],” said Davis, “but I’m not happy with [the numbers they have been getting].
There is an issue of race at Cornell, Davis continued, and the University must acknowledge the issue more openly if changes are going to be made.
“These claims [that there are issues of race at Cornell] have been going on for months and even years now … How many times do people have to say fire for people to believe that there is a fire? Once. How many times does it take people to say there are race issues at Cornell? I am still counting. A discussion and plan needs to be laid out to better understand and act on this issue. A call has been sent to the President by BSU to meet but has not been answered as of yet. We still wait.”
For its part, the admissions office at Cornell knows there is still work to be done.
“Of course there are always improvements to be made,” Herrera said, “and our Multicultural Recruitment Advisory Committee is always brainstorming ways to strengthen our existing efforts. For example, we would love to host more students during our major programs and reach out to students who may not know a lot about Cornell. We hope that the work we are doing now impacts us in the future.”