As the demographics of our nation change, Monmouth College is leading its competitive set of colleges and universities in recruiting a diverse student community. On the strength of an entering class that includes nearly one American minority student for every four, the college has reached its highest level of diversity in its 157-year history.
The college was officially able to announce its 2010-11 enrollment figures earlier this week, and the numbers show that of the 413 new students on campus, 99 are American minorities. The incoming class, which includes more than 14 percent African-American students and more than 7 percent Hispanic/Latino students, is the most diverse in MC’s history.
The new entering class has pushed Monmouth’s overall minority student enrollment figure to 16 percent. There are 219 American minority students on campus this fall, which is also an all-time high.
Monmouth’s overall enrollment for the academic year is 1,353. That is within 30 of the college’s record number of students.
Not only has Monmouth College surpassed its own milestones for ethnic diversity, it has also risen to a leading position in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) consortium. According to information available through the University and College Accountability Network (www.ucan-network.org) and each school’s Common Data Set (CDS), Monmouth’s minority percentage was among the top three ACM colleges a year ago. Its new 16 percent total could lead the ACM for 2010-11, pending new enrollment figures from its 13 sister institutions.
Peter Pitts, MC’s regional director of admission, works primarily out of the Cook County area in Illinois, which includes Chicago. Approximately two-thirds of the incoming students he helped recruit for 2010-11 are American minorities.
Pitts explained that Monmouth participates in a series of networks and programs that each bring in a handful or two of minority students. In two cases, he said, Monmouth has had an alumni connection within the programs – Jen McNeely ’01 at AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) and Craig Nash ’84 at GEARUP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs).
Another success story was the HighSight organization, which provides academic and social support to Chicago high school students.
“HighSight had 29 graduates this year,” Pitts reported, “and seven of them chose Monmouth. That is an incredible figure.”
Pitts also saluted the efforts of Mike Milke, superintendent of Chicago’s Noble Street network of charter schools.
“Most of the students in those schools are Hispanic/Latino or African-American,” said Pitts. “One day, Superintendent Milke got in his car and drove five or six students down to Monmouth for a visit. That was unbelievable. Most guidance counselors wouldn’t do that, let alone the superintendent. He helped with at least a half-dozen of our new students this year.”
Other programs Pitts credited include the Chicago Scholars Program and 100 Black Men of Chicago. The ACM is also active with the College Counselors’ Collaborative (CCC), which works to increase the number of highly-qualified Chicago Public School students who enroll and graduate from selective colleges and universities.
By working daily with incoming inner-city students, Pitts develops a unique perspective.
“These are really neat kids, and most are first-generation college students,” he said. “Some of these kids have fascinating backgrounds that you can’t begin to fathom. Some travel an hour and 45 minutes one way, around bad neighborhoods, just to get to their school. Others may have lost both parents at a very young age or had to deal with other adversities much earlier in life than their peers.”
Monmouth’s rural western Illinois location is the opposite of Chicago. Whether the college’s location is a pro or con depends on the individual, but Pitts said that many minority students certainly view it as a positive.
“They love the peace and serenity of this rural town,” he said. “They’re looking for something that’s different from where they came from. They come to campus for their overnight visits, and the comment they make to me is that people are friendly, and the students interact with each other.”
Junior Michael Coates, an African-African student, agreed.
“What drew me to the college was the silence,” he said. “I came from Chicago, and it is a very noisy city. I like Monmouth for the view and for the silence. I can focus better.”
“Coming from the city of Chicago, I wanted a new experience in life,” added junior Jess Avila. “I’ve learned a lot, including that a ‘city girl’ like myself can live in a small, yet great place.”
Andre Taylor, a junior from Rantoul who is African-American, said he was drawn to Monmouth College by the campus size and sports. “A smaller campus meant I would be able to meet a lot of people and not be overlooked by my professors,” he added. “I play football here and love it, but the great liberal arts education only reinforced my wonderful decision of choosing this campus.”
While the Monmouth experience benefits minority students, the reverse is also true. The college as a whole benefits from such students’ diversity of experiences – experiences that allow students to learn from each other by adding richness to classroom discussions, social events and simple late-night conversations with friends.
“It is important for a college to have racial diversity so that real world interactions and relationships can be developed,” said Taylor. “The world is not one color, it is a variety of personalities and experiences, and diversity on campus allows students to expand our web of experiences.”
“Learning the story behind where a student comes from can create a more global awareness for everyone in the campus community,” added Avila.
“It is our obligation as an institution to support a culture that provides students with a better understanding of our diverse world,” said vice president for student life/dean of students Jacquelyn Condon. “Experiencing and understanding that diversity as a student better prepares them for work and to contribute to society.”