January 21, 2014

True Colors: Making the cut: What it means to be a Cardinal of color

This article is the third part of a three-part series. Read Part One and Part Two here.

By Simon Isham–

The Cardinal continues its series on students of color this week with U of L’s primary recruiter: Jenny Sawyer, director of admission

“I keep this sign on my desk that says, ‘Commander’s intent: graduate students.’ One of the things we need to do when making admissions decisions is make sure we pick students who are ready to be here,” Sawyer said. She cited the ULtra program as the university’s lifeline to students who are not yet college-ready, but still hoping to pursue higher education.

The Cardinal’s preliminary statistics showed that the average high school GPA of black U of L students in the 2013 cohort was 3.45, whereas that of the total cohort was 3.59. Similarly, the average ACT composite score of black students was 22.1, whereas that of the cohort was 25.2.

According to a recent report by 55,000 Degrees, a charitable organization in Louisville dedicated to helping increase educational attainment, the city is approximately 75 percent white and 22 percent black. Despite this, only one in six blacks and Latinos obtain college degrees.

The same report states that Jefferson County Public Schools produced an average ACT score of 18.8 percent, with black students receiving an average score of 16, and Latinos receiving an average score of 18. The report notes the significance of this achievement gap. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is the chairman of 55,000 Degrees.

In the state of Kentucky, the average ACT composite score in 2013 was 19.6 across all races. The average of black student scores was 19.6. Hispanic and Latino students scored an average of 18.4 and white students scored an average of 20.2. All of these scores are lower than the national average ACT composite score of 20.9.

Sawyer said that the average of all ACT composite scores went down this year because the company for the first time included in the averages the scores of students who were tested with accommodations, such as extended time to complete the test.

The Cardinal’s data request also revealed that the average college GPA of black undergraduates at U of L in spring 2013 was 2.49, compared to a 2.67 GPA for white students and a 2.65 average across races. Since the 1970s, studies have linked on-campus living and involvement with increased academic success in higher education. Whereas 71.9 percent of students who live on campus are white, only 15.8 percent of residents are black.

It has become a trend in college admissions nationally to heavily recruit minority students, especially blacks, and U of L is no exception. The Office of Admissions is also home to the Diversity Recruitment Office, a group of four full-time staff.

“As a director, I try and tell everyone that it is everyone’s goal to recruit students of background to our office. (Diversity Recruitment) is the part of our office that shows up every day and have that on their radar. I’m a huge believer that you don’t want to separate that out, so those staff (also) have general recruiting responsibilities. They have high schools that they visit and folders that they read,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer continued that race does not play a role in admissions decisions, but that there are ways of attracting talented black and Latino scholars to the university, namely by making the admissions pool bigger. For example, if Diversity Recruitment staff visited more schools with large populations of students of color, this would increase the chances of some of those students considering U of L as an option.

“(Admissions is) very committed to keeping that number reflective of the state population, but for us it’s really more about keeping it respective of the Louisville population,” she said.

In response to the desire Tierney Bates expressed to the Cardinal to accompany Office of Diversity Recruitment staff on recruitment trips, Sawyer and Diversity Recruitment Director Errol Wint agreed that he was welcome to tag along.


Extracurricular and honor programs do their part to attract potential freshmen

The Diversity Recruitment Office offers two primary recruitment initiatives: Order Your Educational Steps and Up Close and Personal. OYES focuses on bringing small groups of black, typically first-generation, often low-income students to campus for visits tailored to their interests. UCP is a one-on-one current-student shadowing program.

Johnathan Hughes, program coordinator, is responsible for both initiatives.

“We had 30 groups on campus this fall for OYES. We had 40 UCP visits,” he said. “They’ve grown a lot since last year.”

Diversity Recruitment has also paired with the Honors Program to offer a new initiative for the 2013-14 school year. The MLK Scholars accept 10 black and Latino students as a subset of Threlkeld’s living and learning service community. Students who qualify have at least a 25 ACT composite score and a 3.5 high school GPA. They also have an interest in peace and social justice, as did the program’s namesake, Martin Luther King Jr.

“We invited 20 kids to come for interviews, and they all ended up coming to the University of Louisville,” said Wint.

Also under the purview of Diversity Recruitment is the AVIATORS program, in which volunteers actively call, visit and follow up with prospective students of color, encouraging them to consider U of L.

“It allows high school students to get to talk to current students who look like them, and even some who don’t look like them. It’s that connection that really makes college a reality for those kids, so every year we have regulars that come back. They tell us, ‘It’s not like this at Murray or UK,’” Wint said, “so kudos to Johnathan (Hughes) for managing that.”

The Porter Scholarship, named for the late Woodford B. Porter, the first black chairman of U of L’s Board of Trustees, is conferred annually upon promising black students. According to the Cultural Center’s Tierney Bates, upwards of 500 of these awards are dispensed every year, accounting for 50 percent of all black students on scholarship at U of L. Nearly 56 percent of all black students in the 2013 cohort received scholarships to attend the university.

Porter scholars applications are prepared and reviewed by Bates, and final admission decisions are made by a panel of faculty, staff and administrators from across university departments.

Student organizations associated directly with the Cultural Center include the Association of Black Students, the Society of Porter Scholars and the Student African American Brotherhood.


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