Tuesday, February 27, 2007

News: Admins Try New Approach to an Old Challenge

Upping the Ante on Minority Recruitment

By Alex Waddell

According to The New School Fact Book for Fall 2006, Lang’s student body is 59.5% white, making it the whitest division of the University. Under-represented minorities, which include African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans, make up only 10.1% of the student body.

Lang’s population is more ethnically diverse than the national average, but somewhat less diverse than most New York City undergraduate student bodies. And, as the size of Lang’s student body has doubled in the past five years, its ethnic make-up has remained relatively consistent.

“Lang is diverse, but it could be more diverse,” said Jose Padilla, a senior at Lang. “It should be more diverse.”

Thankfully, this school year, Lang has already met its target of raising $100,000 for student recruitment and scholarships, and every dollar will be matched by The Schwartz Scholarship Challenge, a fund-raising incentive financed by Bernard Schwartz, Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees at The New School. Now in its second year, this five-year project will raise nearly a million dollars for recruiting and scholarships to Lang with a priority for under-represented minorities.

Administrators have also developed a range of programs that actively seek out minority students, such as the Institute of Urban Education (IUE) and new exchange programs with historically black colleges and universities (HBCU). Lang also has a Diversity Committee—a group of faculty, staff, and students— currently reviewing information and forming recommendations.

According to Dean Jonathan Veitch, of Lang, the school is addressing diversity differently than most other higher-education institutions. “Most colleges focus on financial aid and marketing,” Veitch said. “We tend to focus on outreach. So [we are] not just waiting passively for students to find us.”

Nevertheless, Lang faces a distinct set of challenges in recruiting minority students. The amount of financial aid distributed to students is on par with the national average, but Lang is supported by an endowment of only $18 million, far below the average for most colleges of similar size. This means that the school must focus on fundraising to fund scholarships and recruitment.

“Anything new and exciting we want to do, we really have to raise the money to pay for it,” said Preeti Davidson, Director of Development and Alumni.

According to John White, Director of Academic Advising at Lang, non-white-identified students also have a higher rate of attrition than white students. He cited little academic experience and minimal financial aid as the most common reasons for students' leaving.

Padilla said that minorities have been well represented in some of his classes, but not in others.

“It’s not like I’m trying to speak for all Latinos, but sometimes I feel like that’s what people want me to do and that’s unfair,” Padilla said. “It’s like, ‘Okay, so the rest of you in the class get to be individuals, but I have to speak for people.'”

Veitch said there has been a push for entrance level courses that focus on African American studies, Hispanic/Latino studies, Urban Studies and other topics, responding to students' complaints that Lang lacks ethnic diversity in the student body and faculty and strong programs in these areas of study.

With the IUE, administrators have found a way to both serve Lang's need for diversity and the community's. The IUE has a number of programs that prepare young people for college, offer experiential training in high schools for college students and support development and dialogue between educators and youth-oriented organizations.

Founded in 2003, the program now reaches nine public high schools, is training fifty college students, and will soon be holding a Young Writers Conference at Lang for high school students.

“Since we start in the ninth grade we really have a shot at getting students who wouldn’t otherwise go to college,” Veitch said. “We’re getting to a group that hasn’t already decided that it’s not a possibility for them.”

This is the first year that high school students from the program are applying to college and several of them are applying to Lang, according to Ella Turrene, Director of Special Projects.

A new exchange program with Spelman College, a prestigious historically black, all-women’s college in Atlanta, is also currently being finalized. The exchange will be by semester and will include only a “handful” of students, administrators said. Another exchange program with the Katrina-ravaged Dillard University in New Orleans, also an HBCU, is in the beginning phases of development.

Administrators hope that Spelman’s reputation for civic engagement will foster activism on campus. But ultimately, it is the dialogue-based format of a Lang education that makes providing diversity here important.

“Economic and racial diversity is fundamentally important to a seminar college like Lang," Davidson said, "Where the classroom experience is greatly related to student participation, preparation and interest.”

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