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Urban recruiter position targets diverse enrollees

By Reis Thebault
On January 29, 2013

Over the last six years, Miami University has seen a steady increase in its student body's racial and ethnic diversity. To ensure a continued upward trend, admissions staff hired an Assistant Director of Urban Outreach, Donnell Wiggins.

In 2008, racial and ethnic minorities accounted for 9 percent of Miami's undergraduate class, compared to the state average of 16 percent at university main campuses, according to the Ohio Board of Regents. It is this sort of statistic that fuels Miami's perception as a school that is out of reach or unaccommodating of diversity. Michael Kabbaz, associate president for enrollment management said he is dedicated to changing both the perception and the reality of Miami's demographics.

"We are working really hard across the state to debunk the notion that Miami is not an accessible institution and that Miami is not interested in diversity," Kabbaz said.

Thus far, diversity recruitment has made a noticeable difference in minority enrollment. According to the Office of Institutional Research at Miami, the percentage of minorities at Miami has increased from 9 percent in 2008 to 11.6 percent in 2012. A number Kabbaz said is not as high as the university would like it to be, but is the highest in its history.

"It is a multi-prong strategy to really start to get at this but there's no one silver bullet to be able to do it because, if there was, we would have done it," Kabbaz said.

According to Kabbaz, one of these prongs came in the form of a position dedicated solely to urban recruitment in Ohio.

"The position allows us the ability to highly target efforts in our own backyard," Kabbaz said. "The urban outreach position just allows us a focused piece on top of everything else that we are doing."

It is the urban recruiter's job to visit high schools in primarily Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton, and increase Miami's visibility in these hotbeds of diversity. The university hopes to establish a presence in Ohio's diverse areas and then expand these exceptional efforts across the U.S. and the world.

"There is a lot of diversity in Ohio that we could be missing, so I think that we want to start locally and really cultivate those relationships with high schools before we worry about taking that position and expanding outward," Kabbaz said.

This is not to say that before Miami instituted a diversity outreach position no one was attempting to recruit diversity. It is "everyone's responsibility" to recruit diversity, Kabbaz said.

"As we as recruitment staff go around the country, we are certainly looking to recruit diversity, there's no separation of that, this just allows us a highly tailored, laser beam focus," Kabbaz said.

Admission staff is quick to point out that diversity recruitment does not fall squarely on the urban recruiter's shoulders.

Kathleen Pruckno, senior associate director of strategic recruitment, said she also oversees the staff in charge of diversity.

"I think it is important that it is a university effort, we certainly collaborate with other offices on campus," Pruckno said. "The office of diversity affairs is very supportive in our efforts, as well as the academic divisions. I want to stress the fact that it's a university effort and the urban recruiter is just another layer of all of this."

According to Pruckno, bringing high school juniors and seniors to Miami and showing them what the university has to offer is part of that effort.

"The campus visit is probably one of the greatest things that will impact their decision to apply so we are really trying to draw those students to campus and be really strategic about what we are doing," Pruckno said.

The Bridges program is another initiative that the admissions staff employs. Miami's admissions website describes the program as one for high achieving underrepresented high school seniors who are interested in learning more about Miami's educational opportunities.

After peaking high school students' interest and persuading a diverse applicant pool to apply, the question of payment comes into play. According to Miami's admissions website, the total cost of attending Miami in 2012-2013 is $24,143 for Ohio residents and $39,707 for non-Ohio residents.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Miami ranks second in the nation for net price of a public university. A Miami education is one of the most expensive that a high school student could seek, which makes urban outreach and recruitment efforts in underprivileged areas that much more difficult.

Admissions officials are looking for ways to counter these statistics.

"We have looked to increase our support to need-based aid," Kabbaz said. "A strong belief I have is that the cost of a Miami education should not be a barrier for a student to come here."

One of the most beneficial programs to underprivileged families, Kabbaz said, is the Miami Access Initiative. This program gives grants and scholarships to students from families that make less than $35,000 a year. In 2011-2012 the Miami Access Initiative covered tuition and academic fees amounting to $13,156. The only cost that it does not cover is room and board.

"For a family that is in that income bracket, it really starts to build a way for Miami to be an option," Kabbaz said.

Bringing in diversity is a slow process and students are split on how successful a job Miami is doing.

Tarek Saed, an Arab American first-year, expressed his disappointment in his university's efforts.

"I've been to other colleges with large Arab and Muslim populations and we went to nearby mosques everyday," Saed said. "Unfortunately, at Miami, you can't find one. The nearest mosque is in Cincinnati and, for a freshman with no car, that is extremely inconvenient. I feel like they make efforts, but nothing major."

On the other hand, Himanshu Sachdeva, an Indian and a sophomore, is conscious of what statistics suggest is an increasing rate of diversity.

"I am definitely noticing a growing trend of diversity at Miami, even from last year to this year," Sachdeva said. "Programs like the Diwali Show, put on by the Indian Student Association, reflect the rates of change."

Kabbaz and Pruckno said they are certain of what they're trying to accomplish.

"When schools across Ohio and perspective students across Ohio don't have the perception that Miami isn't an option, that's when we know that we have gotten there," Kabbaz said.

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