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Schlissel vows to expand geographic diversity at UM

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Detroit — The University of Michigan has long been regarded as being out of reach for some students from Detroit and other parts of the state, and the school’s president vowed Tuesday to work on changing that.

“Recently I have been struck by how poorly the University of Michigan penetrates in many communities around the state,” Mark Schlissel said, “and I am completely convinced that in all of our communities there are talented students that would thrive at the University of Michigan.”

Speaking before the Governor’s Education Summit at the Renaissance Center, Schlissel said he will find ways to identify gifted students and recruit them to UM. The focus will be on both the state’s big cities and less-served communities, including those in the Upper Peninsula.

“There’s talent all around the state but we are not reaching all the communities and identifying the most talented kids and bringing them here,” Schlissel said after his public comments.

“A lot of it is because of the ways we use to identify talent are things like the ACT or SAT test, or looking at Advanced Placement courses a kid is taking,” Schlissel said. “But what if they didn’t go to a high school that had that? What if their parents couldn’t afford an SAT prep class?

“We need to develop other tools to help identify kids who are just as talented but haven’t had the educational advantages that other kids have had,” Schlissel added. “That is going to be a big focus of the years ahead.”

UM has been part of a national conversation for more than a decade about diversity, but until recently the dialogue has centered on racial and ethnic diversity garnered through affirmative action. On that issue, the U.S. Supreme Court has handed down two decisions affecting Michigan, including one last year that upheld a voter referendum that banned the use of affirmative action in college admissions.

When Schlissel took office last year, he said that it was critical that the university include students of color but equally important to enroll students who are culturally, socioeconomically and geographically diverse.

Late last year, students concerned with diversity shut down a UM Regents meeting, demanding that the university make more efforts to enroll African-Americans and students from Detroit.

Mike Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, said Schlissel is heading in the right direction

“Diversity is very, very important,” said Boulus, who attended Tuesday’s summit. “There are a lot of students who can succeed at UM but for whatever reasons don’t apply. It’s a very noble goal.”