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UK enrolls record number of African-American freshmen

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by Nancy C. Rodriguez, Courier-Journal

Four years after being criticized for doing too little to diversify its campus, the University of Kentucky enrolled a record number of African-American freshmen this year — and also boosted overall enrollment, according to preliminary figures released yesterday.

This year’s freshman class of 4,044 includes 341 black students, up 32 percent from last year and topping the previous record of 294 set in 2006, said UK Provost Kumble Subbaswamy.

He attributed the increase in African-American freshmen to the success of black students at the university.

“When high school students see their peers staying at the University of Kentucky and thriving in their academic programs here, they realize UK is a place where they, too, can succeed,” Subbaswamy said.

UK’s freshman enrollment was 179 higher than last year.

“I am extremely pleased with the diversity and quality of this year’s freshmen class,” President Lee Todd said. “Increasing our freshmen African-American enrollment by one-third is an important stride in meeting our diversity goals.”

University of Louisville officials could not provide comparable minority enrollment figures yesterday because the numbers aren’t finalized. But U of L officials said last month that they expected this year’s freshman class — about 2,600 students — to be the largest in the school’s history.

The state’s public universities are now collecting 2008 enrollment data, and final numbers won’t be available until after Nov. 1, when schools turn them in to the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.

At UK, African-American enrollment has grown to 1,628 this fall from 1,392 in 2006, an increase due in part to increasing diversity among graduate students.

UK has become more active in trying to recruit African-American students in recent years in response to criticism — from lawmakers, faculty members and others — that it was lacking in diversity. Legislators were particularly concerned during the 2005-06 academic year, when black freshman enrollment fell to 143 from 256 in fall 2004.

In response, the university launched several initiatives that have included increased scholarships and expanded opportunities to visit campus. Last winter, UK also hired its first vice president for institutional diversity, Judy “J.J.” Jackson.

UK freshman Chelsea O’Neal, 18, a finance and economics major from Cincinnati, said she has been happy with the diversity and the campus has been hospitable.

“Even though the campus is big, they really make it feel like a small community to me,” said O’Neal, who is African American. “That is what really sealed the deal.”

O’Neal is a recipient of one of the school’s William C. Parker Scholarships, which she said “helped” when it came to choosing among UK, the University of Cincinnati and Ohio State University. The scholarships are geared toward minority students, including American Indians, Asians or Pacific islanders, Hispanics or Alaskan natives.

Overall enrollment at UK is 26,901, and resident freshman enrollment is 3,077, up from 2,899 last year. Total enrollment last year was 26,588.

Besides the higher enrollment and growing diversity on campus, Subbaswamy noted retention for first-year students also is up, to 81 percent from 74 percent. That improvement comes a little more than a year after UK announced its so-called “War on Attrition,” which included increasing academic advising for incoming students and instituting an alert system for students identified as floundering in their first year at the university.

Subbaswamy, who said UK’s goal is to have a 90 percent retention rate, equated the university’s efforts with “pedaling up a steep hill.”

“We are part of the way up, and now is not the time to let up on the pedal,” he said.

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Written by Symphony

September 14, 2008 at 5:52 pm

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