Beyond Athletics: Three Other Ways to Recruit Minority College Students

We’ve all heard the fairytale stories before: a minority kid from a tough neighborhood gets a shot at a college career because he or she is recruited for a particular sport. Not only do these athletes get to show off their physical talent, but they get a college degree and a more promising future in the process. Listen, I’m all for athletes landing athletic scholarships if it means that more minority college students earn a college degree. But I also know that stories like these, while intentionally heartwarming and media friendly, do not represent the vast majority of minorities with college aspirations. Athletes get a lot of the attention, but if colleges and universities are truly committed to diverse populations of students then they need to put the steps in place to make it easier for all minorities to earn a college degree.

A few of the areas where I think universities could improve on minority programs and recruitment include:

Arts recruiting.

Just as scouts go out and recruit the best basketball or football players for teams, the same should happen with minority students who show promise in the arts. Theater, musical performance, sculpting, painting, film studies and even creative writing – minority students who have talent in these areas should be given attention and invited to college programs. Why arts programs over more practical careers in STEM or healthcare? Minority students with arts passions often feel forced to abandon them in favor of immediate jobs or things that are simply not their passions. Arts careers are considered “silly” for white peers, but almost irresponsible for minority students. This should change and colleges should take the lead on it.

Mentorship programs.

There are some minority students who come from a home where one or both parents are college graduates but those odds are lower than their white peers. All first-generation college students face different challenges and expectations than those for whom college acceptance, success and graduation has always been expected. During the recruiting process, colleges should tout their mentorships programs and make sure minority and first-generation students are aware of the support they will receive when they decide to attend. As much as possible, these mentorship programs should work on matching students based on race, gender and career industry – though aligning all of that is admittedly difficult. Using the same mentor for several students is an option. Particularly in the case of minority students, mentors are generally overjoyed to be able to help a young person succeed. Colleges just need to be asking for that help and then expressing that it exists to their potential minority students.

Creative financial aid.

College is expensive and for students who have to pay for it on their own while supporting themselves, it can be overwhelming. There are no shortage of loans that students can take out to help finance their college careers, but saddling them with debt before they even set foot in the work world can be a recipe for disaster. Colleges that truly want a diverse population of students who succeed after graduation should look into adding more minority scholarships. The “pay it forward” college payment system that is implemented in certain states like Oregon should be considered for wider adoption, especially when it comes to attracting minority and first-generation students to college campuses. College does not need to be completely free in order for more minorities to attend and graduate. It does need to be affordable, though, and that takes some thinking out the normal financial aid box.

Athletes who earn college degrees are certainly inspirational but they are only a small portion of the minorities who want the type of education a college or university can provide. If we really want equality on our college campuses then it will take more than touting the success of our minority football, basketball and track stars. We need to find ways to translate that same success across interests and disciplines, and to give those students the support they need to truly succeed. Part of that process is to make college more affordable for all students. Another piece of that puzzle is targeting areas that are often overshadowed by athletics, like the arts. By understanding the true picture of what potential minority college students are like, colleges and universities can get more of them on campus or enrolling online.

How do you think more minority college students can be recruited?

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