First-Years Diversify Oberlin
Oberlin College is making a substantial effort to broaden the appeal of the school, according to the office of admissions and financial aid.
“We’re looking to increase the breadth of students,” says Debra Chermonte, the dean of admissions and financial aid. “We want the awareness of Oberlin to be broader in scope.”
The focus has been on attracting more first generation and low-income students than ever before. According to the official class of 2011 profile, 76 percent of freshman receive financial aid compared to 69 percent and 66 percent for the classes of 2010 and 2009 respectively.
“I think think these numbers give you a sense,” remarked Chermonte.
Moreover, 14 percent of the incoming class is lower income, a figure that is higher than any in the past.
This year the college instituted three new programs to target low-income and first generation students: the QuestBridge project, Posse and the Center for Student Opportunity. “Ethnic and cultural diversity is important,” said Chermonte. “It’s kind of a spotlight issue for us.”
The QuestBridge program allows qualified low-income and first-generation students to fill out a special application and list their preferred schools. Schools in the program then review the finalists chosen by the QuestBridge project and list their top potential students. The QuestBridge project then matches the students with schools that selected each other, giving the students a chance to attend the school of their choice completely free. Admissions enrolled nine students from the program this year.
The College also participated in the Center for Student Opportunity guidebook. Colleges who want to promote themselves to first generation and low-income students fund the guidebook and its distribution as a form of advertisement to that target group.
Posse is a group intent on training and bringing student leaders with ethnic and culturally diverse backgrounds to campuses across America. Oberlin College accepted 10 students from the program chapter located in Chicago. The students underwent eight months of training to prepare them for their arrival to campus this August.
The school is reacting to the growing opportunities available to reach this elusive group of potential students. “There are so many more agencies partnering with the college in an effort to really target both low income and first-generation students,” said Chermonte. “This is an unprecedented jump.”
This year marks the ninth consecutive year that broke the record for number of total applicants. Judging by this fact, the school does not have a problem attracting students.
It is not the number but the makeup of the applicant pool that is potentially in transition. Another concern has been raised that the school is struggling to adjust to a larger student body than usual. Total enrollment for the class of 2011 is 791, 20 students above the target, according to Chermonte. The yield rate, or percent of accepted students who enroll, for the Conservatory was higher than normal at 50.3 percent. Admissions also aimed at enrolling 30 double degree students, yet 38 signed up. The Office of Admissions believes that these discrepancies do not present a major problem.
According to the Oberlin College Class of 2011 Profile, the admit rate for the class of 2011, 33.9 percent, tied with the year 1972 for the most selective year since the College began keeping records in 1929. The profile also notes that 32 percent of the College of Arts and Sciences class were early decision candidates, something important to note as the early decision process has been criticized for favoring students for whom financial aid is not an issue.
The number of Ohio students enrolled is 72, the same as in 2005. New York state’s numbers dropped from 134 to 104 freshman from 2005. Similarly, California students dropped from 88 to 79 from just last year. Despite the reductions in students from New York and California, Chermonte maintained, “No student’s application would hinge on where they’re from.”
According to Admissions, the reductions are due to the broadening of Oberlin’s appeal across America and to the college’s success in reaching new target groups. The more students who apply, the more geographically diverse the school will be.
The widening appeal of Oberlin College is illustrated by its student body: 91 international students joined the class of 2011, as well as 14 more African-American and 13 more Asian students than last year. Overall, the percentage of Oberlin’s incoming freshman class who are people of color increased from 18 to 20 percent since last year.
Statistics like these may disprove rumors that the Fearless campaign and other Admissions practices are an attempt to make Oberlin more mainstream. “I don’t think we’re trying to change the character of the school,” said Chermonte. “We are trying to have no effect on the fabric of the community.”