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UM enrolls most diverse freshman class in a decade

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor – — Following years of turmoil over diversity at the University of Michigan, the face of the incoming freshman class is changing.

The university reported Monday that enrollment on the Ann Arbor campus totals 43,651 students in fall 2015, including 6,071 freshmen. Underrepresented minorities make up 12.8 percent of the incoming freshman class, the largest percentage since 2005, when it was 13.8 percent. Last year, underrepresented minorities made up 10 percent of the incoming class.

Hispanics make up UM's largest minority group among freshmen, as well as the overall student body.

The nearly 3 percent increase in this year's incoming minority freshmen comes nearly a decade after voters approved a 2006 constitutional amendment that banned affirmative action in higher education admissions. That law survived a legal challenge taken to the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

University officials attributed the increase to several factors, including more emphasis on high school recruiting and accepting fewer early enrollments, which allows more time for underrepresented students to get their applications considered.

"The campus — admissions, financial aid, recruitment teams and our partners across the university — worked together in response to the charge to achieve our target class size and find ways, consistent with state law, to bring further diversity to our student body with this class," said Kedra Ishop, associate vice president for enrollment management. "We are pleased with the progress and want to continue our forward momentum in 2016."

UM's new enrollment figures come after protesters, frustrated by the lack of diversity on campus, staged demonstrations, including two before the University of Michigan Board of Regents meetings. Eight people, led by the activist group By Any Mean Necessary, were arrested during the April protest and will make their first court appearance on Wednesday.

Local BAMN leaders said while the increase is modest, it's critical.

"It is a victory of the movement," said Kate Stenvig, a BAMN organizer. "BAMN's leadership on the campus is making clear that we're not going to accept the same business as usual routine of talking about diversity but not doing anything."

In raw numbers, underrepresented minorities in UM's incoming freshman class total 746 students. Of those, the largest group is Hispanics — with 344 students — followed by African-Americans, with 298 students. Overall, the total number minority students at UM is 4,525 students, or about 10 percent. Hispanics are the largest group, with 2,028 students. The number of black students on campus is 1,801.

Callie Munn, a junior, and Lydia Munn, a senior, both from Detroit, on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Monday.

Several factors contributed to the increase in incoming freshman minority students, UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said. Among them: The university deliberately did not exceed targeted numbers for the freshman class, typically around 6,000. That meant UM did not accept as many early enrollment applications, which allows underrepresented students more time to get their applications in the mix, he said.

"Underrepresented minority students and lower socioeconomic students tend to take a bit more time to complete their applications," Fitzgerald said. "By not admitting as many students in early admissions, we had more of those completed admissions applications in hand."

The university also worked to reach out to high school students around the state and to make underrepresented students more aware of financial help that's available after they're accepted, Fitzgerald added.

Enrollment broken down by race of this year's freshman enrollment at Wayne State University was not available. But at Michigan State University, preliminary figures showed freshmen minority student enrollment was up 0.4 percent from fall 2014, said MSU spokesman Jason Cody.

UM President Mark Schlissel has said on numerous occasions that diversity is crucial to UM, and he has launched a strategic planning process to come up with ways to better diversify the campus that includes a 10-day diversity summit next month.

Just last week, before the Detroit Economic Club and several times before that, he said UM cannot be a great university without diversity.

A campuswide assembly will be held Nov. 10 at Rackham Auditorium to discuss ways to improve diversity. That meeting will kick off a series of private and public events from Nov. 4-13.