KELLY: The importance of outreach

The University should continue and increase their recent efforts to recruit low-income students

Recruiting low-income students is becoming a more persistent problem for the University. Despite recent administrative efforts, the percentage of low-income students has remained relatively low over the past few years, contributing to the University’s status as one of the least socioeconomically diverse colleges in the country. With the fundamental purpose of the University at stake, the issue of recruiting more low-income students will be critical for the future. Though the University has already taken significant steps in this regard, more can be done.

When the University had both low tuition rates for in-state students and generous financial aid in the form of AccessUVA, the need for rigorously detailed plans for recruiting low-income students was not very high. For high achieving, low-income students in the state, the University was clearly an attractive and — more importantly — accessible option. In recent years, however, the rises in tuition and alterations to AccessUVa have complicated the picture.

Addressing this issue, President Sullivan told the Kiwanis Club of Richmond last Monday that she had personally written letters to the principals of 80 high schools in low-income areas in an effort to recruit a more diverse student body.

This strategy is certainly a positive and encouraging start. With this action, the University administration has demonstrated an acute understanding of the socio-economic dilemma here. A written letter from a university president is a persuasive means of encouragement, yet support from a distance will never be as effectual as direct contact and attention. There are more substantial ways in which the University administration can reach out to high achieving, low-income students across the state who increasingly feel that the University is out of reach for them.

To be fair, the University has already taken a crucial first step in both expressing its support for improvements in low-income student recruitment and engaging in special efforts to reach out to students who are unfamiliar with the admissions process.

But comparatively few programs are specifically designed for direct outreach to high achieving, low income students at the middle school, junior high and high school levels. A summer bridge program that specifically targets such students and provides them with SAT preparation and other resources not normally available to them would be particularly constructive. The key for the future will be engaging in recruitment activities that go beyond traditional methods such as college fairs and high school visits.

For one, the tactic of recruiting at a college fair or a similar event is inherently biased towards students who are better situated economically and socially. As important as such efforts are to overall student recruitment, low-income students can rarely afford to even attend such meetings, as they often work jobs after school in order to support their families. Traditional information channels may bypass high-achieving, low income students, even if counselors and admissions staffers honestly do all that they can for these them. It would be more prudent to organize recruitment in a way that recognizes the routines of low-income students and their families.

In order to increase its socioeconomic diversity in the long-term, the University should also consider direct recruitment activities in nontraditional settings such as community centers and church youth groups. Recruitment efforts at community centers in low income areas will be more likely to reach high-achieving, low-income students who attend schools that struggle to attain the resources necessary to hold traditional recruitment events such as college fairs. Though the University may not consider such a strategy to be cost-effective, early outreach in these environments would help high-achieving, low-income students to recognize the full array of college opportunities available to them. They would receive crucial information — especially the fact that list prices are often considerably different from the net costs of selective colleges — which would increase the probability that these students will apply to selective colleges such as the University.

Expanding College Opportunities, a program pioneered in part by University professor Sarah Turner, aims to increase overall enrollment of low-income students by providing application guidance and semi-customized information about the net cost of attending different colleges. The use of non-traditional methods such as these will be critical in the future. Promisingly, Dean of Admission Greg Roberts has said that the University is contemplating pursuing a related strategy of sending students customized text messages on the financial aid process.

This issue will prove to be critical as the University moves forward; the University’s initial steps are an encouraging start. Non-traditional methods of recruitment should receive more attention as the University moves forward.

Conor Kelly is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at c.kelly@cavalierdaily.com.


Published April 2, 2014 in Opinion





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