November 15, 2012

ILR Strives to Increase Number of Low-Income Students

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As part of the University’s “Toward New Directions” diversity plan, the School of Industrial and Labor Relations is focusing on increasing the number of students in the college who come from low-income backgrounds, according to a  recent report. According to ILR Dean Harry Katz, ILR has achieved “fabulous success” in increasing ethnic diversity: About 40 percent of the Class of 2016 in the college are underrepresented minorities. Now, one of the college’s five new diversity goals is to further diversify the socioeconomic makeup of the student body, according to a report of annual initiatives published by the Office of Diversity and Initiatives. Katz noted that this particular diversity goal may be one of the most difficult for the college to achieve.Since Cornell has a need-blind admissions process, administrators do not consider an applicant’s income level when his or her application is submitted. To attract prospective low-income students, then, the University will need to focus on increasing low-income applicants and improving yield rates for admitted students from low-income backgrounds.“[Recruiting students] has more to do with trying to get kids to apply to the program who have diverse backgrounds,” Katz said. He added that the ILR school also “tries to convince students that [Cornell] is a good place to come, for lots of reasons, including the fact that there are students like them already here on campus.”In addition to increasing the number of applicants from lower-income families, ILR is also aiming to increase the number of transfer students, tenure-track faculty and study abroad participants from underrepresented economic and racial backgrounds.Specific to the ILR curriculum, the college’s administrators also hope to re-evaluate the freshman colloquium — a mandatory class for all ILR freshman — to ensure that it encourages “meaningful dialogue among students from different economic and racial backgrounds,” according to the report of initiatives.Katz said that these initiatives will help achieve the college’s mission.“We believe in diversity, and part of ILR’s role is to advance the world of work,” Katz said. “The world of work is more ethnically diverse, with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, so we try to reflect that in our student body.” According to Prof. Ron Ehrenberg, industrial and labor relations, this change could cost the University more money by increasing financial aid given. But the University has determined that diversity is a higher priority and warrants the additional burden, Ehrenberg said.“When Cornell says ‘we want to have a more diverse student body and more relatively low-income students,’ this is because we think it’s the right thing to do and not because we’re worried about the economic impact on us,” Ehrenberg said. “There are financial costs, but this is a cost that the University has understood and feels is an important thing to do.”Ehrenberg added that alumni donations are the main source of funding for providing the financial aid that would help sustain more lower-income students in ILR.“The gratifying thing is our alumni have been very generous in providing resources for undergraduate financial aid, even though in the main these resources will not go to their children but to children coming from different socioeconomic backgrounds,” he said.In addition to recruitment efforts, ILR is also seeking to raise money from alumni and other funding sources to provide more stipend and fellowship support to low-income students already at the University, Katz said.“I and others have been worried about whether students who come from lower family income levels can take advantage of all those opportunities,” Katz said.Increasing stipend support could help students who want to take advantage of work and academic opportunities that are not as well-paid, he said.“There’s even more of an issue surrounding how those students can take advantage of those internships and service learning options, which don’t always come with the same compensation” as other jobs, Katz said.By providing such opportunities to students of a widening range of socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, Ehrenberg said, Cornell is training leaders that increasingly come from “all places and different backgrounds.”“We want students to understand the views and perspectives of all parts of our society,” Ehrenberg said.

Original Author: Caroline Flax