UO freshman class has record high percentage of minority students

Of nearly 5,100 new freshmen, more than 1,300 were students of color. That’s 27 percent — the highest percentage ever at the University of Oregon.

Students of color now comprise 22 percent of the entire student population, making UO’s population more diverse than the state of Oregon by two percentage points. Since 2007, UO’s minority numbers have nearly doubled from 12.5 to 22 percent, according to preliminary numbers from UO’s office of Institutional Research.

Part of this is due to a concerted effort by the school to create a better learning environment for all students, Vice-President of Enrollment Management Roger Thompson said.

“So much of the great learning happens outside the class,” Thompson said. “We should be embracing (diversity). Studying with, learning with, living with people who are similar to you and different from you. That’s when you learn from fellow students.”

The diversity effort also reflects UO’s effort to prepare students for diverse workplaces, Thompson explained.

“We have an obligation to prepare our students to compete in the 21st century workplace,” Thompson said. “It’s more diverse than it’s ever been.”

Ashley Campbell, an African American student from Los Angeles, was one of those students. Interested in cinema studies with hopes to pursue a set design career, Campbell applied to 17 different schools before deciding on the UO at Embracing the Future, an event that invites ethnic minorities to campus.

“People were very warm and I just felt I had to be here,” Campbell said. “Both my parents went to UCLA, my sister went to UCLA. I decided to come here instead.”

UO was one of the first places Campbell applied and got into.

The university has reached out to different minority communities in and outside Oregon through events such as the Fiesta Mexicana and the Rose Festival, as well as partnering with groups like Self-Enhancement Incorporated, which supports at-risk urban youth.

Having more students like Campbell helps the UO reach toward Governor Kitzhaber’s 40-40-20 Goal, which aims for 40 percent bachelor’s degrees, 40 percent associate’s degrees or certificates, and twenty percent high school diplomas in Oregon’s adult population by 2025.

In the past year, UO’s diversity stats have pulled ahead of Oregon Institute of Technology and Oregon State University, and UO is now second in the state behind Portland State University, which touted 25 percent students of color in 2013. Oregon State University hasn’t released updated numbers yet, but last year it sat .3 percent lower than UO with 20.5 percent students of color.

Two things have contributed to the minority jump: Increased efforts to recruit students of color, and more financial aid and guidance available to low-income UO students. Pathway Oregon, a scholarship program for first-time freshmen who are Pell-eligible and have a GPA of 3.4, is one example.

Targeting low-income students helps diversity because minority students are statistically more likely to fall into the low-income bracket, according to Grant Schoonover, an adviser for Pathway Oregon.

“There’s a greater number of first generation and historically underrepresented students in that cross-section,” Schoonover said.

Students who qualify for Pathway Oregon get a promise from the university that any tuition and fees the federal Pell grant and state grants don’t cover, the UO will absorb.

In 2013, Pathway Oregon’s funds were raised by 69 percent, and since then, students receiving the aid has jumped from 395 to 532 this fall–an increase of 40 percent. For low-income students, to whom financial cost is the biggest deterrent for attending school, this piece is crucial.

“Low-income students are least likely to graduate from high school, and if they do, they’re likely to take longer to go to college,” Schoonover said, “and if they do enter college as freshmen, they’re less likely to continue on as sophomores, and if they do, they’re less likely to graduate, and if they do, they’re more likely to have lots of student debt.”

The rise in diversity numbers does not include international students at the UO. International students comprise 12 percent of the incoming first-year class, according to the preliminary numbers, which is similar to previous years.

Another big piece of the rising numbers, according to Jim Rawlins, director of admissions at UO, is that students are learning that they can get help to pay for college when they’re in high school. Pathway Oregon and other programs like it have been trying more and more to reach into high schools so student’s mindsets can change, and now from early on, more students are keeping college as an option.

But much of this change in diversity could simply be because high schools are getting more diverse, says Peace Bransberger, a research analyst for the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

“If you look at the simple view, you’ll see that even from 2005… entering classes of students are more diverse,” Bransberger said.

Bringing diversity race-wise will include more Oregon residents who historically haven’t been able to take part in higher education, according to Rawlins.

“37 percent [of the student body at UO] are Pell-eligible,” Rawlins said. “Those students are much more likely to be first-generation college students, and much more likely to be racially and ethnically diverse.”

If the numbers hold true, most of these students will be staying: Preliminary retention rate is 87 percent from 2013’s freshman class.

Info for this article was contributed by Dahlia Bazzaz.

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Scott Greenstone

Scott Greenstone

Rehabilitated ex-homeschooler, former Emerald Senior News Editor, editor-in-chief of The Broadside at Central Oregon Community College, and freelance blogger for Barnes and Noble.

Now I write campus politics. Easy conversation starters include Adventure Time, Terry Pratchett novels and Arcade Fire.