When Chicago native Alex Butler applied to colleges three years ago in his senior year of high school, he said he didn’t have a list of high expectations.
A school’s athletic department, let alone the diversity of its student body, was not a deciding factor for Butler, a junior specializing in ethnic studies and English. As a first-generation African-American student, he said that only one factor would decide where he graduated: cost.
At the College d’Albion, federal aid and scholarships provided by the college covered more than 80% of its tuition, room and board costs. While Butler said he had hoped to attend a historically black university or college, he couldn’t refuse Albion’s scholarships.
“The first time I got here I was moving into the dorms,” Butler said. “My list ended up going out the window. They gave me the best amount of money so I ended up going.
Butler’s listing is one example of Albion’s success in increasing minority enrollment. Kalamazoo College has had similar success.
Of Michigan’s 41 private colleges, Kalamazoo and Albion have been recognized as leaders in their efforts to improve the diversity of their campuses, according to Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities.
Albion, located about 13 miles east of Marshall in southern Michigan, has more than doubled the number of people of color in the past seven years.
For the 2013-2014 school year, 18% of students identified themselves as a person of color. During 2019-2020, 41% of students identified themselves as a minority.
The new Fall 2020 class was made up of 48% students of color.
The private college has worked to create a more inclusive environment for minority students with both financial aid and college programs, said Kelly Finn, chief of staff to the president of Albion. Albion College offers free tuition for students below a certain family income threshold.
“Belonging is one of our core values,” said Finn. “We are committed to building a campus where every student feels at home. To do this, we must go beyond diversity, equity and inclusion to achieve true belonging. “
Kalamazoo College is also working diligently to increase its minority student population, said Robert LeFevre, president of Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities.
With the changing racial demographics, Kalamazoo recognized that many minorities were approaching college age and focused heavily on recruiting them. The school has focused its recruiting efforts in densely populated minority areas such as Southern California and Texas.
In 2011, 19.8% of students enrolled in Kalamazoo identified as a racial minority. In 2020, the number was 35.7%.
Improving minority enrollment has been a goal of the college for the past 14 years, said Sarah Westfall, vice president of student development and dean of students at Kalamazoo.
“We really wanted to have a student body that is more like the world we live in instead of a world that is past,” Westfall said.
Improving the presence of minorities is only one part of the college’s strategy to diversify a campus.
“We don’t aim, for example, to be X% certain types of people and Y% certain types of others,” Westfall said.
“We don’t define diversity just as a race or an ethnicity. There is socio-economic diversity, religious diversity and cultural diversity, and we care about all of that as well, ”she said.
While Kalamazoo College has dramatically improved the number of minority students, the school has struggled to retain them.
In 2012, its minority workforce increased to 28.74%, but in 2013 fell to 23.4%. A similar trend occurred in 2014, with a minority enrollment rate of 32.8% but falling to 27.2% the following year.
The ACT and SAT tests are optional for applicants to Kalamazoo College.
One key is that colleges create an environment in which minority students feel comfortable, Butler said.
As treasurer of the Black Student Alliance, Butler said he found his place on campus.
“I expected there to be like a larger black community when I first arrived here, but I was wrong,” he said. “He grew over time.
Recruiting is only half the battle, and Finn and Westfall said their colleges are constantly working to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment.
Last summer, Albion launched ‘Blueprint for Belonging’, which serves as an audit to assess the best steps to improve students’ sense of inclusion.
In addition, last fall the college received a grant of more than $ 1.3 million from the US Department of Education / TRIO Student Support Services to help students from low-income families, first year students generation and people with disabilities.
Kalamazoo College hosts peer education groups at its Intercultural Student Center, which was established five years ago.
Groups include Sister Circle, created to give women of color the opportunity to talk about their shared experiences, and Sakuma, an organization for under-represented students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.
Alma College also praises its efforts to improve minority enrollment. Over the past 10 years, Alma has increased minority registrations by 13%, said spokesperson Tim Rath.
The college has focused much of its efforts on reaching potential students in Detroit.
As a participant in the Detroit Future Program, Alma offers full scholarships and boarding fees to students who live or attend high school in Detroit. Students must come from a family with an annual household income of less than $ 65,000.
“We are committed to recognizing and removing barriers to success and providing equitable access to opportunities through education and advocacy,” said Rath.
Elaine Mallon writes for the Capital News Service.