Study shows recruitment bias toward affluent communities

Recruitment for public schools focuses on students from affluent backgrounds. Photo Illustration: Tomas Bernal · The Sentry

How CU Denver challenges college recruitment bias
Recruitment for public schools focuses on students from affluent backgrounds.
Photo Illustration: Tomas Bernal · The Sentry

In the midst of the recent college admissions scandal involving actors Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, researchers at UCLA and the University of Arizona found that public universities systematically prioritize recruiting in affluent, typically white communities.

Many recruiters for public universities travel out of state to recruit prospective students. In turn, these students would pay out-of-state tuition, which is generally higher than in-state tuition.

Nearly half of the universities studied made more than twice as many out-of-state recruitment visits than in-state. According to the study, the University of Alabama was the worst offender. Out of the 4,349 visits made, only 392 occurred within the state of Alabama.

In addition, these in-state visits largely ignored low-income areas with high concentrations of students of color. As of the Fall 2018 semester, 75 percent of the University of Alabama’s student population was white, and out-of-state tuition is almost twice the price of in-state tuition.

This study emerges among countless lawsuits regarding how universities choose their students and how those practices reflect greater societal attitudes toward disadvantaged groups. In the last decade, lawsuits against universities’ enrollment and recruitment processes have become increasingly prevalent.

CU Denver stands out from many other public universities, with students of color representing 54.1 percent of the undergraduate student body and 50 percent of entering freshmen being first-generation college students.

According to Genia Herndon, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Access and Enrollment, CU Denver currently does not conduct out-of-state recruitment events. However, the University does conduct K-12 outreach and partnerships in addition to pre-collegiate programs.

“At CU Denver, we want our prospective students to know that we’re here to help them find the right fit. We’re committed to them, in the sense that it may not be with us, it may be with another institution. What we’re committed to is the fact that we believe in the power of learning and education,” Herndon said.

The student demographics at CU Denver reflect this dedication to student success. Since 2013, the University saw an increase of 61 percent in minority student enrollment. Nearly 86 percent of students are Colorado residents, in comparison to 54 percent at the University of Alabama.

CU Denver’s administration is seemingly more focused on providing a pathway to success than many other public universities, whose primary focus appears to be on finances in the recruitment process.

But admitting students of color is just one piece of the puzzle. According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics conducted from 1996 to 2007, students of color consistently have lower retention rates, meaning that many will not graduate from their institution of higher education.

By contrast, the current overall retention percentage at CU Denver is 72 percent, and the retention rate for students of color is consistently similar to that of white students.

While many universities have come under fire for their recruitment and enrollment practices, CU Denver exemplifies a commitment to diversity and student development.

“There’s a real purpose in the work that we do here, and I’m proud of that,” Herndon said.

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