Nationally, economic hardships and demographic changes are leading minorities to seek out higher education at a record pace, according to a new report.
But the University of Colorado is not showing comparable minority enrollment growth during the recession years.
Fall 2009 undergraduate enrollment at CU's Boulder campus included 15 percent minorities
Asian American: 6 percent
Latino: 6 percent
African American: 2 percent
American Indian: 1 percent
Source: University of Colorado
In the fall of 2008, colleges, universities and trade schools nationwide saw a significant boom in freshman enrollment as unemployment rates began to rise, according to a report released last week by the Pew Research Center. Of the students who enrolled at four-year schools that fall, 38 percent of them were non-white, up 2 percent from the previous year, the report stated.
During the same semester, CU's Boulder campus boasted a record-setting freshman class of 5,833, which included 931 students of color, or 16 percent, according to the university — lower than the 38-percent national average presented in the Pew report.
The Boulder campus' freshman minority enrollment peaked in 2006, percentage-wise, and has remained at that 16-percent level since, although the total number of minority freshmen dropped slightly in the fall of 2009 to 889.
“We reached our highest level of minority students ever then (in 2006) when we reached 16 percent and we've maintained that since then,” Boulder campus spokesman Bronson Hilliard said. “We are pleased at the general upward trend in diverse students and faculty, but nobody is saying that's good enough.”
Hilliard said he believed it wasn't fair to compare CU's minority enrollment levels to the Pew study since it included not only four-year universities, but also trade schools and two-year institutions.
“To compare the numbers of a high-quality research institution like CU to those of institutions of various calibers is like comparing apples and oranges,” Hilliard said. “I just can't do that.”
CU senior Thomas Baxter, a member of the campus' Latino Student Alliance and the Black Student Alliance, said the lack of support by the university and surrounding community allows for minority issues to be "swept under the rug."
"CU and Boulder try to pretend that they're diverse, but they're not fooling us," Baxter said. "It's not just the administration, but the students and the local community who don't support efforts to increase diversity."
While some students -- particularly minorities such as Baxter -- may feel jaded, one office on campus is devoting time, money and energy to programs that are meant to open CU up to students of various lifestyles.
David Aragon, executive director for student success at CU's office of Diversity Equity and Community Engagement, said there are more than a dozen outreach initiatives that are aimed directly at increasing campus diversity.
"Most everyone I know would love to see more efforts to support diversity on the CU-Boulder campus," Aragon said. "There is a constant perception that we battle that we aren't doing enough and we want to do more."
But with so little support for such initiatives, Baxter said it seems future students will have a fight of their own.
"When you walk on campus as a minority, it feels like you're coming on to a battleground," Baxter said. "It's always an issue of race, it seems like, and it's not being addressed."
Aragon attributes the low diversity to the high standards of CU and the demographic challenges provided by a lack of minorities in the state.
CU is among the most selective schools of the Rocky Mountain region, and because of that, it is also one of the more expensive -- making it more difficult for some lower-income students to attend, Aragon said.
Baxter agreed that geographical and financial challenges exist, but said he feels like the effort is lacking and that is the biggest problem.
"Students don't seem to care, either," Baxter said. "I realize it's not going to be perfect, but, at this point, minority students would be happy seeing some effort from anywhere."