diversity digest
Spring 01
Institutional Leadership and Commitment
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Opportunities and Obstacles: Lesley University Looks at its Recruitment of Students of Color
By Eric Klein, Coordinator, and Samuel Turner, Special Assistant to the President, Affirmative Action and Diversity, Lesley University


As the Census 2000 data articulates an increasingly multicultural picture of America, colleges and universities around the country have the opportunity to recruit students from the most diverse pool of potential applicants ever. But when tried-and-true recruitment methods prove ineffective with populations of color, institutions committed to diversifying their student bodies must take a hard look at their own recruitment practices. On April 11, 2001, Lesley University convened the Forum on the Recruitment of Students of Color to explore how changing national demographics impact Lesley's recruiting strategies. Not only was the forum successful in identifying both challenges to and best practices for recruiting students of color, the design of the half-day program proved to be an effective and economic model of institutional assessment.

Program

Lesley University has often been recognized for its decade-long track record of achievements in diversity on its main campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But with 150 off-campus sites in 15 states and plans to more than double national enrollment in the next ten years, Lesley University is a study in the challenges universities and colleges face in recruiting a diverse student body as they expand nationally.

The forum was structured in two parts. The conversation was framed in the context of current national demographic changes identified by renowned demographer, Dr. Harold Hodgkinson. The second part of the forum focused on Lesley's recruiting practices. Representatives from each of the five admissions departments presented their offices' processes, challenges, and needs around ALANA (African-American, Latino/a, Asian-, and Native-American) student recruitment.

Outcomes

Dr. Hodgkinson articulated the relationship between projected national-ethnic composition and higher education's future clientele pool. The scope and depth of this senior level consultant's analysis made it clear that tomorrow's successful university will need to work today to build a solid track record with ALANA students.

Lesley's admissions/marketing departments all reported one central obstacle to the recruitment of students of color: applicants' economic need. Admissions representatives also cited the lack of preparation of the applicants, both in terms of academic background and familiarity with the college application process. A barrier particular to the national program is the relative difficulty in negotiating agreements with officials in the more bureaucratic (and diverse) urban areas.

The key factor identified in successful recruiting is the availability of scholarships. A serious commitment to attracting students of color also requires re-thinking the processes of recruiting students. Recruiters spoke of changing the times of information sessions in urban areas; creating alternatives to the cohort model that has worked so well in suburban areas; developing non-traditional paced programs--weekend intensive formats and online learning--that allow students to attend school and continue working; and assigning administrators to help families of applicants to master the college application system.

Perhaps the most important outcome of the forum was its role in clarifying the university community's understanding of what the institution does to market to and recruit students of color. The forum was a powerful tool for simultaneously assessing and internally communicating organizational practices. This model of "the community learning from itself" may be useful to other organizations with similar self-assessment needs.

Moving Forward

The challenge for Lesley University now is to tie the strategies and needs identified at the forum to institutional procedures. This fall, the outcomes of the forum will be brought before the Enrollment Management Planning Committee (many of whom attended or presented at the forum) to inform next year's priorities and subsequent actionable items. As successful as the event was, the final measure of the forum's effectiveness is the degree to which it helps us improve our own institutional practices. We are confident, nonetheless, that the forum has provided a solid foundation as we continue to ensure that Lesley's student body represents the diversity of the nation.


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Eric Klein
Samuel Turner