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OSU shows little gain in minority enrollment

Ohio State University recently released its most current enrollment figures. While overall enrollment numbers increased, the number of African American students declined ever so slightly.

Imagine being one of 1,300 on a college campus with more than 52,000 students. That's what it's like for African American men at Ohio State's Columbus campus. Black men make up only two-and-a-half percent of OSU students. Black women - four percent.

"It's really shocking," said Tasha Graddic.

Graddic is a fifth year senior majoring in sociology. She's African American. Graddic was surprised that only six-and-a-half percent of OSU students are black.

"When you're in class, going to classes, you kind of just see that you're the minorities, you know. Like, we all kind of sit together. There's probably like three or four of us per upper division classes that I'm in, so. It's really, really shocking. I had no idea the numbers were that low," Graddic said.

OSU's minority enrollment numbers, specifically African American students, are comparable to other Big Ten schools. Last year, black men and women made up six-point-two percent of Michigan's students. And eight percent of Penn State's undergrads were African Americans. Ohio State Provost Joe Alluto was asked what he thinks hampers OSU from attracting and retaining more black students. Alluto responded he does not think the university is underperforming in its minority enrollment compared to other schools of similar size.

"The main issue for us is to make sure that any minority student who has the ability to succeed at Ohio State has the ability to do that. And some of that is going to be a function of economic background rather than any ethnic background and we want to make sure that that's addresses. That's part of our commitment to excellence," Alluto said.

Mac Stewart heads OSU's Diversity Office. Stewart said financial aid is often the deciding factor when minority students choose their college. "Finance happens to be a very important component for all students but certainly for underrepresented, minority students. So we have to become more aggressive in terms of getting dollars to attract our students here in order to compete with other universities who are looking for similar type students," Stewart said.

But Stewart said Ohio State's minority enrollment suffered because of the 2003 Michigan decision. That's when the U.S. Supreme Court put limits on how much of a factor race can play in giving minority students an advantage in the admissions process.

"While it certainly reaffirmed in terms of our efforts for diversity, but for many families and students it had a chilling effect. They did not quite understand all that was taking place," Stewart said.

Stewart said OSU continues to aggressively recruit black students in Ohio, but it has significantly increased its out of state recruitment since the 2003 decision.

Deborah Chapman is a guidance counselor at East High School in Cleveland where 97 percent of its students are black. Chapman said OSU recruits East High's students just like any other college or university.

"This year we have not had the representative come. I know we've been playing a game of tag here, and unable to, you know, connect with a person to set up a date," Chapman said.

Chapman said four students from East High were accepted to OSU's Columbus campus last year. And she said she's noticed a slight increase in the number of students applying for Ohio State as well as being accepted.

"The students are not discouraged from attending Ohio State if their grade point is not quite up to snuff. They are encouraged to go to one of the other campuses does have," Chapman said.

And the regional campus numbers reflect that. Stewart said there has been a slight increase in African American students on the regional campuses because of efforts to get more black students at OSU.

"Alternatives were made to some students who were not accepted to the Columbus campus so they could begin their career, college career, on a regional campus, and then change to the main campus," Stewart said.

And that's just what Alan DeWitt Junior did. DeWitt is a fifth year senior from Dayton who started out at the Newark campus. He transferred after his freshman year. DeWitt said he doesn't think the university is doing a stellar job at recruiting more people like him. But he does not think all the blame should be placed on OSU. He thinks black alumni should do more.

"Once African American males or females get out I think they feel I've done my job and they just drop the ball there," DeWitt said.

DeWitt is set to graduate with a bachelor's in December. And once again, that makes him part of the minority. OSU officials say African American men leave after their freshmen year. There are programs on OSU's campus targeting this problem. But DeWitt said he thinks the struggle with retaining black male students starts before they set foot on campus.

"Things that are supposed to be taught in grade school aren't. So when you get into these classes where you're supposed to know these things you're like sitting there mindless, like I don't remember any of this from grade school. And then they just expect you to just jump on board really quick with everyone. Grade schools, middle schools and grade schools are very poor so they get here and yeah, they get discouraged. And are like I don't know what to do," DeWitt said.

But officials are seeing signs of progress. While the number of black students has stayed fairly stagnant over the last few years, Stewart said OSU is graduating more African Americans.

"For two years in a row we have been the largest producer of African American baccalaureates. But the more we can produce the better," Stewart said.

Tasha Graddic is also expected to receive her bachelor's degree in December.