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Thought Leadership

Increasing Diversity in the Face of Declining Enrollment

Angel Perez

Angel Pérez on how colleges can continue to create equitable learning opportunities

Once the onset of the pandemic, college enrollment has declined for three straight years. Enrollment for underserved populations, in particular, has plummeted—and with the Supreme Court currently weighing two cases that could mark the end of affirmative action, colleges may need to rethink their strategies for building racially diverse campuses. Angel Pérez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, recently spoke with author and podcaster Ben Wildavsky* about how institutions of higher learning can maintain diverse campuses in a changing economic and legal environment.

What would it mean for higher education and society in general if racial diversity on college campuses significantly decreased?

College is where a lot of students learn to engage across difference. As our society grows more diverse, people from different backgrounds are going to need to learn how to interact with each other, especially in the workforce. Personally, I had never engaged with white people before I went to college, and I had certainly never engaged with wealth. Doing so made me a better person, and I think it makes me a better leader. If we lose diversity on college campuses, there is going to be a tremendous shift in our society, and I’m worried about that because we’re already pretty divided as a nation.

Should colleges be rethinking their financial aid models to attract more diverse students?

Yes. When most students get a financial aid award in this country, they don’t have a full understanding of how much they’ll actually have to pay. So there’s a lack of transparency there. We also need to rethink our financial aid formulas to better reflect who has an ability to pay. But financial aid models don’t work without money, and in my experience, the fastest way to diversify an institution is to invest more money in financial aid.

What can colleges do on the recruitment side to increase diversity?

I’ve been inspired by some colleges and universities that I’ve been talking to as they think through a post-affirmative action world. One of the things that might shift in the next several years is how colleges and universities recruit. So, for example, instead of just going to high schools and after-school programs, they might recruit in the Black church, or they might go to Latinx community centers. I think we’ll see colleges thinking deeply about where communities of color gather and how they, as institutions of higher education, can partner with those communities.

* Excerpted from a November 22, 2022, interview on The Higher Ed Spotlight Podcast.

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