Minority students now make up the majority of college undergraduate students in New Jersey.
College officials said the increase in Hispanic, black and Asian students reflects both the increasing diversity of the state and increased efforts by colleges to recruit more nonwhite students so that their enrollment reflects the state’s population.
But while overall diversity has grown, the racial and cultural makeup of individual colleges still depends on several factors, including location, cost and competitiveness. Two South Jersey colleges, Richard Stockton and Rowan, are among the least-diverse in the state.
College officials said they do not set quotas for racial diversity, but do take steps to encourage minority students to enroll. College affirmative-action policies are under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
An analysis by The Press of Atlantic City shows that the shift in minority enrollment reflects the changing diversity of the state’s K-12 public schools. While the population of white and black students has shrunk over the past five years, the number of Hispanic and Asian students has grown.
Statewide, 51 percent of students in the state’s public schools were white in 2011-12, according to state Department of Education data, followed by 16 percent black, 23 percent Hispanic and 9 percent Asian. About 1 percent also identify either as Hawaiian native, American Indian or of two or more races.
Statewide, 49 percent of college students in fall 2011 identified as white, with 14 percent black, 17 percent Hispanic and 8 percent Asian. An additional 8 percent did not identify a race.
Asian students in particular are often over-represented in highly competitive colleges. Asians made up almost 18 percent of the population at Princeton in 2011-12, which draws an international applicant pool. Students of Asian descent also made up 22 percent of students at both Rutgers University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Rutgers Vice President of Enrollment Management Courtney McAnuff noted that Asians as a group in New Jersey have the highest average SAT scores and the cities near the Rutgers campuses have large Asian populations, so the college is well known and convenient. He also noted that the top three countries for international students at Rutgers are China, South Korea and India.
While the minority population at Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township has increased during the past five years from 20 percent to almost 25 percent in 2011-12, its enrollment, along with that of Rowan University and Ramapo College, was more than 70 percent white.
Stockton Dean of Enrollment Management John Iacovelli said because there is no large urban center in the immediate area, they have to recruit more from larger cities.
“Atlantic City and Pleasantville are not like Camden or Jersey City or Newark,” he said. “We are still underpopulated with minorities, but it reflects the area.”
While Atlantic County is more diverse, the school population in Ocean County, the second-highest recruitment area for Stockton, is almost 70 percent white. Cape May County, while small, is almost 80 percent white.
Socioeconomic, family and cultural factors also play a role. Many minority students are the first in their families to attend college, and data show that Hispanic and black students are somewhat more likely to start at a less expensive community college.
One of them is Felix Contreras, 22, of Galloway, who attends Atlantic Cape Community College and plans to go into medicine. He was chosen to attend a special internship at Yale University designed to recruit more minorities into medical fields. He said it opened his eyes to opportunities ahead.
Contreras, who immigrated with his family from the Dominican Republic when he was 6 years old, admits he was just an average student at Absegami High School. But he decided to try college because he didn’t want to be stuck in a retail or dead-end job all his life. He easily aced his anatomy and physiology class and decided maybe he does have a better future, even if it takes him a bit longer to get there.
He said he thinks there can be preconceptions about immigrant students that can prevent them from being offered opportunities. He’s now part of a Men of Atlantic Cape group that mentors minority males to help them stay in college.
“No one ever suggested I take an Advanced Placement course,” he said. “I didn’t even know what the SAT was until my junior year in high school.”
Heather Medina, assistant director of admissions at Stockton, said the biggest hurdle is that minority students do not get the guidance they need to prepare for college while in high school. Stockton invites youth groups to visit and holds a Latino Visitation Day every year, but that alone won’t get a student into college.
“We try to show them how they can go here,” she said. “But they need to take the right courses in high school.”
“We also try to go out to their communities, their schools, their churches,” said Mel Gregory, coordinator of minority admissions and special programs at Stockton. He said some cultures prefer to keep their children closer to home, and some religions discourage borrowing, all of which plays into the decision of where or even if a person will attend college.
Latino groups in particular have been advocating for college, noting that as the fastest-growing minority group, the education of Hispanics will help determine the future of America. A report by Excelencia in Education found that New Jersey had the seventh-largest Latino population in the country, based on the 2010 U.S. census, but only 22 percent of Latino adults had at least a two-year college degree, compared with 45 percent of all adults ages 25 to 64. It also noted that graduation rates for Latinos were far lower than for white students.
But the report on Latino college completion also found that the number of Hispanics who earned a college degree in New Jersey had increased 14 percent from 2006-08, higher than the 6 percent rate increase of all other groups.
Local minority students said they never felt particularly “recruited” to Stockton, but chose it for a variety of reasons ranging from location to affordability.
Charles McAllister, 24, of Galloway, started college in South Carolina, where he played basketball, but returned when his mother got sick. He transferred to Burlington County College, then Stockton, where he’s into music but is also considering law school.
Active in the United Black Students Society, he said he has noticed that many other black students are from North Jersey, and sometimes it can be hard to integrate into a new culture. With blacks making up just 7 percent of students at Stockton, he said the organization offers a place where they can go to feel comfortable.
“Sometimes it’s just what you’re used to,” he said.
Other minority students at Stockton said while they do notice they are still in the minority, it hasn’t been much of an issue at Stockton, and they like the college.
Jennifer Chao, 21, a sophomore business management major at Stockton, was born in California and spent four years in Shanghai, China, before moving to Galloway, where she lives with her grandfather and father. She is active in the college’s Asian Student Alliance, and said they try to teach students about Asian cultures.
She and other minority students say the biggest issue for them is that they tend to be lumped into a generic racial group, when Asian could mean Korean, Chinese or Japanese, Hispanic could mean any number of countries and black includes not just American students, but those coming from Nigeria or Ghana, for instance.
Adaobi Michaels-Ezeamama, 22, a native of Nigeria, is a nursing student at Stockton who considered the school because other family members attended, loved the college and found it affordable. She is active in the African Student Organization, whose goal, she said, is to raise awareness of different African cultures. She said Stockton encourages that diversity, but admits it can be hard to convince other students to participate in a club that does not reflect their heritage. Her solution has been food.
“Everyone likes free food,” she said. “We always try to offer food at our events, and that is the No. 1 way to get people to come. We are not doing this club for ourselves. We are doing it for others. We want to bring people together, get them to know us.”
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