The numbers are tentative — and certainly not a trend. But after years of dwindling Black student enrollment, the University of South Florida is on track to host the most diverse freshmen class in its history. Its a lesson in how creativity, extra effort and teamwork can combine to advance a laudable goal.
Admission deposits are up 13 percent for Black students and up more than 3.5 percent for Hispanic students. While the $200 nonrefundable payments are only an indicator of a student’s intent, university officials see them as a good barometer of who and how many students will actually show up on campus to start their college careers.
As the Tampa Bay Times’ Divya Kumar reported Monday, USF officials said 457 Black students had placed deposits for the summer and fall semesters, compared to 398 last year. While that’s only a fraction in a class of 6,300 students, university leaders are encouraged, particularly given the 2.4 percent decline in Black enrollment over the last five years. And the stronger turnout was particularly notable for USF’s St. Petersburg campus, where one of the 157 freshmen admitted last fall was Black. Headed into this fall, 48 Black students have submitted admission deposits for the St. Petersburg campus, up from 18 this time last year. The numbers may be modest, but every one represents a human being preparing for a better life.
The stronger figures were driven in part by an overall 7 percent increase in deposits for all races and ethnicities university wide. But the university also made individual phone calls to some 400 “high-ability” Black students and their families. The outreach effort involved dozens of faculty and staff members, USF trustees and top administrators, including university president Steve Currall. Faculty and staff members contacted students in their respective fields, establishing what could be a mentoring pipeline. And some calls involved students’ parents and grandparents, recognizing that the selection of a university is often a multi-generational family decision.
The effort is labor-intensive, and it built on other initiatives, such as a USF program that guarantees admission to certain high school students who attend local schools serving historically underrepresented and low-income communities. But it shows that goals alone are useless without the hard work to back them up. The contacts should give families more confidence that the university is invested in the success of every student. And they should help attune faculty and staff to challenges that individual students face in obtaining their degrees.
USF should expand the outreach program, involving more faculty and administrators, and track these communications to find areas for improvement. And these mentors need to stay engaged for the long-term, making themselves available to students and their families as they navigate university life. USF’s learning and campus environment will be richer with a more diverse student body. And these connections will deepen the university’s involvement in the communities it serves. No worthwhile achievement comes easy. But these numbers are a glimmer of hope, and with sustained effort, boosting the number of Black students could become a sustainable trend.
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