While the rate of increase in freshman applications to Northwestern is the lowest in three years, the Class of 2013 can potentially have the highest African American and Hispanic representation in recent years after students and administrations officials reinvigorated the effort to attract applications from minority students.
Applications from black students are up by 22 percent, and applications from Hispanic students have increased by 50 percent this year, according to tentative data released by the university last January. In comparison, freshman applications are expected to be 3 to 4 percent higher than last year’s total of 25,013.
“From what we’ve seen of our peer schools – the Ivies, Duke, Rice, Johns Hopkins – our percentage increase was among [the highest], if not the highest,” Dean of Undergraduate Admission Christopher Watson said.
According to Mike McGee, Communication junior and Academic Vice President of the Associate Student Government, the boost in admission applications might be due to “a flurry of activity” to attract minority applicants this academic year. Last summer and fall, the Office of Undergraduate Admission and various student groups at Northwestern joined efforts to popularize the university within minority groups in the Chicago area and nationwide.
Since then Medill sophomore Bradley Akubuiro, one of two student coordinators of NU Ambassadors, a group in the Admissions Office devoted to recruiting black students, has observed a new and palpable energy to the minority recruitment effort, especially among students.
According to Akubuiro, part of the drive was due to last year’s low admission numbers, which provoked a response on campus during Fall Quarter. Last October, about 20 students protested the low number of black freshmen on campus. Black students make up 87 of the 2,078-student class of 2012, while Hispanic students number 135.
But the October demonstration also marked the beginning of new black enrollment initiatives at Northwestern.
The administration’s new strategy
According to Watson, “there was absolutely a sense” that the university needed to do more to attract and enroll minority students, and the Admissions Office took steps that may have contributed to this year’s increase.
One move was joining Questbridge, an organization that provides a “match service” for low income students and universities that students may have thought were out of reach. According to Watson, membership in Questbridge may have caused about “100 kids to look at us who may not have otherwise.”
The university also increased the time and the scope of travel for admissions officers. Each officer did three to four more weeks of traveling this year, especially to schools with large minority groups.
In the midst of the economic crisis, the Admissions Office also decided to waive the $65 application fee for all Chicago Public Schools applicants, as part of a bigger effort of “taking care of our backyard,” Watson said.
To generate interest in Northwestern academics, the Admissions Office organized, and plans to continue, a program called “Immerse Yourself,” which brings 100 CPS students to Evanston to attend classes specifically designed for this pool of potential applicants. The Associate Student Government also coordinated an overnight visit for 72 CPS students, McGee said.
Student reaction and involvement
Northwestern students did much of the legwork for programs that fell outside the realm of strategic or policy changes, or that targeted specific groups.
- Alianza President Aldo Gallardo
Hispanic students worked more directly with the admissions office through CLAVE, the Council of Latino Admissions Volunteers for Education. As part of this collaboration, Northwestern undergraduates called high school students with high test scores to tell them more about the university.
NU Ambassadors also trained student volunteers to give presentations at their high schools over winter break, and during the spring. In addition, the university has worked to improve contact with high school guidance counselors. For example, Northwestern has hosted a guidance counselor “fly-in” for counselors from Chicagoland and across the country who serve minority students, McGee said.
But Alianza President and Weinberg senior Aldo Gallardo said that the role Northwestern students have on recruitment is entirely extracurricular.
“We are students first, second and third. It should be the university’s job to recruit,” Gallardo added.
According to Akubuiro, however, there are limits to the recruiting that the Admissions Office could do: “Admissions has always been passionate about this. They do what they can to increase the numbers of minority students. But without student involvement, there’s only so much they can [do],” Akubuiro said, adding that in many cases students are better salesmen than admissions officials.
A focus on yield
Watson was pleasantly surprised at the level of increase in minority applications across the board. Amidst efforts to respond to the low percentage of black freshmen, the increase in the number of applications this year was encouraging, but university officials are hesitant to get too excited.
“I’m satisfied to date,” Watson said. “But the quality and admissibility of these candidates is yet to be determined. It is too early to say it ‘worked.’”
–Bradley Akubuiro, student coordinator, NU Ambassadors
Watson added that the admissions office is already in gear for dealing with accepted students, and attracting the next bunch of applicants.
“As much as we have to attract new applicants,” he said, “we have to work harder on yield.”
Starting in early April, as regular decision acceptance letters are sent out, NU Ambassadors will hit the phones to encourage prospective African-American students to visit campus.
“Spring is our biggest quarter,” Akubuiro said. “I’m not confident until [the applicants] sign the paper saying they’ll come here.”
It is hard to know how well Northwestern will be able to sustain this surge in minority applications. There are no major structural changes in financial aid policy, academic programs or admission strategy. The increase in minority applications was not a result “of the things we did differently, but the passion with which we did it,” Akubuiro said.
“I’m confident it’ll come with time. These things change gradually,” he added.
In the meantime, the priority will be to keep up student enthusiasm and energy, according to Akubuiro.
“It’s not the admissions professional who makes the difference” to an admitted student on the fence about Northwestern, Akubuiro said. “It’s the current Northwestern student who was in the same position one or two years ago.”