After dropping more than 1 percent in a year, multicultural student enrollment at Butler University is one-third the national rate at other private, four-year, not-for-profit institutions.
Multicultural students—African-Americans, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and other non-Caucasian students—make up 11.3 percent of Butler’s population, down from 12.4 percent last year.
On average, multicultural students made up 31.9 percent of the student population at other private, four-year, not-for-profit institutions in the United States in 2009, according to data by the National Center for Education Statistics.
The drop has been attributed to change in financial aid. In 2008, students looking to state funds to help cut the out-of-pocket costs could earn up to $11,000. Now, students with the highest need can earn up to $7,000.
Tom Weede, vice president of enrollment management, said that multicultural students felt the most impact from the drop in aid and said that they tend to come from lower socioeconomic groups.
“There has been a disproportionate impact on multicultural students.
“What we’re asking is that the poorest students—some of whom are multicultural and some of whom are white—who have the least ability to pay it, to find an extra $4,000 to come to the university,” Weede said. “It’s just not plausible.”
Financial aid makes up a majority of the university budget, with 92 percent of students receiving some sort of aid from the university.
Making up the difference from state cuts would be difficult, if not impossible, Weede said.
“We, as a university, just don’t have a way or the means to make that up,” Weede said. “When we try and move money from budgets to find this money, we take away from something else. There’s no easy way to do this.
“It looks really fine and seems like a good idea to just do that, until it’s your budget that’s being changed.”
How Butler stacks up
Butler’s multicultural rate is slightly below similar universities, Weede said. He said the cost of the university is one to be considered when looking at the hard numbers.
“It’s easy to look at other universities with higher rates and be surprised that ours is low,” Weede said. “Our cost is a factor. So if anything happens that would hinder a student’s ability to pay for the university, we’re less likely to get that student to come to Butler.”
Past and future of Multicultural enrollment
In the past four years, multicultural enrollment has been on a steady increase but still is behind other similar universities.
Butler’s history in recruiting and enrolling diverse students is one that has faced changes in recent decades.
Between the 1920s and the 60s, university policies–including one that put a quota on how many multicultural students were admitted each year–built a barrier between multicultural communities and the university.
It wasn’t until around 1986 that the university made a mindful effort to appeal to and recruit more multicultural students from around the country, Valerie Davidson, director of diversity programs, said.
“Under [former university President John G.] Johnson, administrators really started to look at how to better the university’s relationship with the community,” Davidson said. “They wanted to really start breaking down those invisible barriers.”
When Johnson became university president in 1978, he was one of the first university presidents to consciously improve appeal to multicultural students.
Johnson said after his inauguration that one of the guidelines for developing his administrative policies was a desire “to attract highly qualified young people who represent a broad segment of economic and cultural backgrounds.”
Under Johnson, a diversity program and task force were created to increase multicultural recruitment and enrollment, including changes in academic programs and outreach efforts.
“With the changes the university has made, the perception that people have of Butler has changed,” Davidson said. “The university has become a community partner and has encouraged interaction, which has helped create a better view of the campus.”
Multicultural recruitment efforts have been successful, Weede said. The university has seen an increase in both acceptance rates and applications received by minorities.
“We’ve seen the acceptance go up,” Weede said. “Now we’re just waiting to see the enrollment catch up. We’ve all been working hard to make sure that can get done.”
Davidson echoed Weede’s sentiment.
“Recruitment has a big job in front of them,” she said. “We’re competing for students from the same pool of applicants, so we just need to keep finding creative ways to create relationships with different potential students.”
The Collegian contacted, but was unable to meet with, officials from admissions and financial aid.