College Outreach Efforts Miss the Diversity Mark, Study Says

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Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

Arturo Samaniego
National Beat Reporter

A new study on college outreach efforts highlights a focus by colleges on targeting wealthy and predominantly white students at the expense of minority and middle to low-income students.

The study by EMRA Research, titled The Off-Campus Recruiting Research Project, finds that colleges are more likely to make on-campus visits to high schools where the average family income is in the excess of $100,000 in comparison to schools where the  average family income is $60,000 to $70,000.

The study also found that the high schools visited tend to be majority-white and those who are skipped tend to have a minority of white students.

The study collected data on off-campus recruiting events from the admissions website of 49 public research universities, 49 private research universities, and 42 private liberal arts colleges from all across the nation.

The study defines off-campus recruiting events “as those focused on soliciting undergraduate admissions applications, hosted by paid personnel or consultants at any off-campus location.”

Britt Ortiz, Director of the Early Academic Outreach Program at UC Santa Barbara, notes that with a decline in state support for public higher education, colleges now have to rely on additional revenue from student tuition, but claims colleges should still focus on diversity.

“I think we have to look beyond just paying the bills and address the question of diversity in the context of opportunity,” Ortiz said. “Who will have the opportunity to attend [these schools] socioeconomically if institutions and states are no longer going to subsidize higher education and financial aid?”

UCSB was not listed in the study, though UC Berkeley and UC Irvine were. The study found that average median household income in zip codes for high schools visited in-state by UC Berkeley and UC Irvine was $86,000 and $68,000 respectively. The average median household income in zip codes for high schools visited out-of-state by UC Berkeley and UC Irvine was $104,000 and $90,000 respectively.  

Viviana Marsano, a co-chair of the Student Initiated Outreach Program at UCSB, spoke on how SIOP reaches out to underprivileged students. SIOP helps student organizations put on outreach programs by providing funds, setting guidelines for the programs to follow, and holding orientations for organizations hoping to start outreach programs.

“The way it works is that registered campus organizations organize some kind of outreach program,” Marsano said. “The way they decide what high schools to outreach to depends on each group, but the focus is always based on low-income underrepresented students.”

According to Marsano, the programs reach out to students from south San Diego to the Bay Area. She states the programs conduct A-G requirements (high school courses students must complete to be eligible for admission to a UC or CSU) and financial aid workshops, host students on campus, and hold their own unique workshops depending on the organization hosting a program.

“We generally fund 16 to 20 groups and the maximum amount we fund is $6,000 dollars. I would say every year these groups bring 2,500 low-income students to campus,” Marsano said. Marsano also said that SIOP ultimately encourages underprivileged students to pursue higher education when they otherwise would not.

Liza Przekop, Director of Admissions at UCSB, said that UCSB takes steps to reach to out low-income students.

“We sponsor many high school groups to visit the campus. In particular, we have the LA2SB program which provides bus transportation to low-income schools from Los Angeles to visit UCSB. Students eat in the dining commons, tour campus, and meet with students,” Przekop said.

Przekop asserted that the findings from the study do not reflect UCSB’s philosophy to student outreach. In addition to bringing students to UCSB, Przekop noted how UCSB reaches out to students on their campuses.

“So far this year we have visited over 1,400 high schools and community colleges in California, covering the range of locations both geographically and with regard to the socioeconomic background of the students,” she told The Bottom Line.

SIOP and EAOP display a commitment to serving underrepresented communities. One of SIOP’s core tenets is to help steer low-income students towards higher education through personal outreach, while EAOP serves schools that are in predominantly first generation and low-income communities.

“We work with nine high schools, four middle schools, and 16 elementary schools in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Kern Counties,” Ortiz told TBL. “All of the schools we serve have high … socioeconomically [needs] at some level in their student populations.”

Ortiz went onto explain that a UCSB EAOP staff member is placed on a permanent basis at a given high school providing intensive services on a standing basis. Staff work with all types of students “with the goal of growing the overall college enrollment rate for the entire graduating class.”

There seems to be a consensus among university recruitment and outreach programs that in-person and personalized outreach efforts have a significant impact on influencing students to pursue higher education.

“Having in-person contact with families personalizes the experience,” said Przekop. “We try to let students know that they are welcome and through their hard work, they will be successful at UCSB.”

Marsano affirms the significance that in-person outreach, especially by college students, can have on high school students.

“The beauty of it is the high school students can identify with the college students they interact with better,” said Marsano. “They can see themselves being those students in the future.”   

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