Area college students remain mostly white, wealthy

Local college students remain mostly white and financially well-off despite a push by universities to attract a more diverse student body.

Even as the University of Dayton welcomed its most diverse class in history in August, minorities and students from low-income households remain under-represented there and at most other area colleges, according to National Center for Education Statistics data analyzed by this newspaper.

At UD, slightly more than 79 percent of 2016 undergraduates were white, compared to 77.7 percent at Wittenberg University, 74.8 percent at Miami University and 73.4 percent at Wright State University. At Cedarville University in Greene County, about 87 percent of the undergrads were white in 2016.

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"We're coming off really a record-setting year at UD so we're excited about the momentum and also very open and honest to acknowledge that this is ongoing work," said Jason Reinoehl, UD vice president for enrollment management. "We have a ways to go on this."

The push for ethnic and economic diversity has intensified in recent years because both are now seen as a necessary piece of a college education, school administrators said. International students also bring in more revenue to a university because those students pay full price for tuition and are not eligible for financial aid.

“There is not a college or university anywhere that is not putting extensive thought and effort into diversity and inclusion on its campus,” Wittenberg dean of students Casey Gill said via email.

No change in racial makeup

The number of men and women at area universities has evened out over the last 35 years but the same has not happened for racial minorities. In most cases, the percentage of Native American, African American, Hispanic and Asian students has only increased by a few points since 1980, an analysis of historical NCES data shows.

At UD and UC, black students made up a smaller percent of the total student body in 2016 than they did in 1980.

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At UD, the drop in black students went from 6.7 percent in 1980 to 3.4 percent last year, according to NCES data. UC suffered a similar drop, with black students making up 11.2 percent of all students in 1980 and 7.4 percent as of 2016.

Miami and Ohio State have only seen increases of a few percentage points among racial minorities since 1980, despite each school’s use of affirmative action in admissions. A recent New York Times analysis found after decades of affirmative action, black and hispanic students are more under-represented at the nation’s top colleges and universities than they were 35 years ago.

“I think we’ve made some progress but certainly there’s more work to do,” said Michael Kabbaz, Miami senior vice president of enrollment and student success.

'It was really a culture shock’

Miami’s lack of racial diversity was obvious to Jaylen Perkins when he arrived on campus last fall. Perkins, a black 19-year-old from Cleveland, was surprised that African Americans only make up around 1 percent more of Miami’s student body than they did in 1980.

“With just one percent, there definitely should have been more of an effort. They should be responsible for bringing in more students with different backgrounds,” Perkins said. “I feel like that definitely takes away from the full life experience if students are going to Miami and then going out into the real world and it isn’t the same.”

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The high school Perkins attended in a Cleveland suburb was around 75 percent black, he said, so coming to Miami, which is 74 percent white, was a big adjustment.

“For me personally, it was really a culture shock. It was definitely a huge change,” Perkins said. “I had to get used to being one of three or four African-American students in a 300-person lecture hall.”

Since Perkins started at Miami, he has become chairman of the political committee of the school’s Black Student Action Association. With the exception of the 2016 presidential election, he said there hasn’t been much racial tension on campus over the last year or so.

Economic diversity low at area schools

Most area schools also rank above the national median for the income level of their students.

At universities, socioeconomic diversity is often measured by the percent of students using Pell grants — federal need-based student aid — to attend school, Reinoehl said. Students who receive Pell grants come from families with a household income of less than $40,000, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

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At 12 percent, UD had the lowest share of students receiving Pell grants among the six area universities examined by the newspaper. According to the university, the number is projected to increase substantially this year.

Among the other five schools — Wright State, Miami, UC, Cedarville and Wittenberg — WSU had the highest percentage of students receiving Pell grants at 38 percent. But the median income of students at Wright State, at $74,700, is still well above the national median, according to data from the U.S. Census and the Equality of Opportunity Project's study on the role of colleges in social mobility.

The median household income for Ohioans hovers just below $50,000 while the nation as a whole is just over $53,000. Meanwhile,UD’s median household income last year was $149,600, Miami’s was $119,000 and Wittenberg’s was $107,100.

“We want to drive more access and affordability,” UD’s Reinoehl said of the data. “Historically, we have not done that.”

‘It will change because it will have to”

With Ohio’s pool of potential students shrinking, administrators said universities are seeking out groups of students they haven’t traditionally courted.

The number of Ohio high school grads is projected to decline by more than 13,000 over the next 15 years, due to the state’s shifting demographics, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

“If you intend to stay relevant in higher education, those are the students who are going to be on your campus,” said Mary Ellen Ashley, Wright State vice president of enrollment management. “I think it will change because it will have to.”

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Despite the slow change of the last three decades or so, area college leaders said the next several years will almost certainly bring more diversity.

“The environment will force it,” Reinoehl said. “It’s going to hit, in the next 30 years it’s going to hit all institutions.”

UD hired Lawrence Burnley as its first vice president of diversity and inclusion in May 2016. During his April inauguration, UD president Eric Spina called for the school to bring in and graduate more traditionally under-represented students.

“We must ensure that a University of Dayton education is affordable and accessible to all who are qualified, and we must achieve greater diversity from the boardroom to the student body,” Spina said.

Efforts to boost racial diversity at UD are already working incrementally, Reinoehl said. The school had approximately 790 undergraduate minority students last fall and estimates that number is up to 983 this year.

One of Miami's top programs, called Bridges, invites minority students to visit campus overnight. The program has grown from just 44 students in 2007 to more than 600 this fall, Kabbaz said. Perkins participated in the Bridges program and said he'd like to see it expanded even more over time.

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Last week Miami announced a partnership with Cincinnati Public schools to bring in more diverse students to the university.

Just over a year ago, the University of Cincinnati began requiring all new job applicants to sign a diversity and inclusion pledge. The pledge was created in order to signal the importance of diversity at UC, senior associate vice president Tamie Grunow said at the time.

Wittenberg promotes diversity and community by hosting an annual “inter-racial unity march” through campus and the City of Springfield, according to the school.

"It's one of the biggest challenges. But, the institutions are trying harder than ever," said Sean Creighton, president of the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education.

Bridging financial gaps

Institution-sponsored financial aid has not always kept up with demand over the years, which college administrators say has led to fewer low-income students than they’d like to enroll.

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That shortfall has to be corrected in order to bolster socioeconomic diversity on campuses, administrators said, and so that’s what universities are doing.

Ohio State announced in July that it would increase funding for its President’s Affordability Grant, which supports 15,000 middle and lower income Ohio students, by $25 million.

The grant program has been active for three years and has provided $60 million total in need-based aid, according to OSU.

“That’s really helped families,” said OSU president Michael Drake. “We’ll continue to do that to try to do everything we can to keep us affordable.”

Over the last five years, UD has increased its university-sponsored financial aid by $60 million, from $103 million in 2012 to $163 million in 2016, according to the school. Miami’s sponsored aid increased by $1.2 million this year, Kabbaz said.

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