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March 5, 2015

Admissions ramps up minority recruiting

At a time when Pennsylvania has declining numbers of college-age students and, in particular, college-eligible black students, Pitt is stepping up its diversity recruitment efforts.

That’s the message Office of Admissions and Financial Aid (OAFA) officials brought to the Feb. 23 meeting of the University Senate’s admissions and student aid committee.

“These last two years, we have really ramped up what we are doing,” said Debbie Rupert, OAFA senior director. That’s because diversity “benefits everyone,” said Marc Harding, chief enrollment officer.

In fall 2014, Pitt admitted 3,884 freshmen and 844 transfer students. While they hailed from all 50 states and 115 countries, 69 percent were Pennsylvania residents.

Public school enrollment has gone down in Pennsylvania over the past few years, Harding reported, and private school enrollment has remained flat. At the same time, there has been a 6 percent decline in the number of African-American students taking the SAT in the commonwealth.

“That’s a concern — that means the pool is shrinking” of potential applicants among black students, he said, since Pitt will not admit those without SAT or ACT scores.

Among the new or increased OAFA efforts Rupert outlined was bringing to campus guidance counselors from high schools with larger minority populations so that they can gain firsthand experience here and pass on their impressions to students. OAFA also is hiring more African-American recruiters to represent Pitt. Currently, six of 14 traveling recruiters at Pitt are black. Rupert said OAFA personnel will be meeting with black and Hispanic Pitt student groups in an effort to hire upcoming Pitt graduates for these posts.

Currently, officials say, OAFA’s most effective minority recruitment program is Create a Day, which brings prospective students and their families to Pitt for a day and a half, during which they meet with counselors, talk to the student ambassador group Pathfinders, tour campus and sample a class. Most recently, some of Pitt’s top African-American administrators have taken part in the event.

Rupert says black high school seniors visiting for Create a Day “are now meeting with someone who looks like them at Pitt. That has made such a difference.”

Last year 610 potential freshmen and their families participated in the spring Create a Day program. Rupert said Pitt expected to host more than 800 people for the next Create a Day this month.

In addition, OAFA hosts special group events for officials and students from specific school districts and community organizations, more of which are focusing on minority recruitment. It has added 12 diversity-focused college fairs to its visitation schedule recently, joined the Pennsylvania Black Conference on Higher Education and created new Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia recruitment trips that include breakfasts for local ministers and guidance counselors from schools that have a more diverse student population.

“Guidance counselor roles have changed over time,” Harding noted. “They can greatly support a college or university’s efforts — if they know what we’re all about.”

“We are really out here more than we ever have [been] before,” Rupert said.

She said the University also plans to increase its marketing to potential transfer students, including minorities. “That is a market where we should do even more,” she said.

Those efforts include a new marketing billboard with a photo of African-American poet and English faculty member Terrance Hayes, who won a recent MacArthur Fellowship, and the message: “‘Genius grant’ winner. Your professor.”

OAFA also is creating a recruitment video featuring top black University officials.

The idea, said Harding, is “to bring the Pitt brand in a real way that is not hokey or games-y.”

“OAFA may be at the core of this, but everything … matters,” he added. Rupert noted that, for recruitment events, “we even hand-pick the janitors who are assigned to us for the whole day,” preferring those who make eye contact and smile at the students. “It takes a whole University to recruit a student.”

—Marty Levine