Diversity remains issue despite efforts

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From left to right computer science freshman Derek Klein, pre-nursing freshman Courtney Hanna, mechanical engineering sophomore Amber Moore, exercise science freshman Ira Poole, public relations senior Benito Layra, public relations senior Tanya Fernandez, philosophy junior Ahmed Zaidi, economics freshman Nur Syairah Mohd Ridzuan, government and sociology junior Amanda Nelson and communication studies junior Tyler Durman.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

UT President William Powers, Jr. vowed to make University diversity a priority and work to make the student body better reflect the state population. However, from 2010 to 2011, enrollment of Hispanic students from Texas high schools dropped two percent, according to a University report.

The University sent the report to Gov. Rick Perry on Dec. 31. It outlines University effort to increase geographic diversity, recruitment of underrepresented students and counseling for students automatically accepted under the admissions policy.

The 2011 class is the first class to be selected under a new admissions policy. State law allows UT-Austin to only accept 75 percent of incoming freshmen under the top 10 percent rule, said Augustine Garza, deputy director of the office of admissions, who spoke to the Daily Texan in September.

According to the University’s website, admissions takes academic achievement, personal achievement and special circumstances into consideration. Race and ethnicity are one of seven other factors that fall under the special circumstances portion.

Radio-television-film senior Pablo Sanchez is a Hispanic student who said the decrease is frustrating. Sanchez said he likes Powers’ goal for the student body to better reflect the state population, but it is not an easy mission with the dismal economy.

“It’s difficult to match those numbers if we don’t have the resources,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said the admissions policy is a balancing act between Powers’ vision and admitting students who are college prepared.

“We have a certain level of prestige,” Sanchez said. “We have to keep in mind that they have to be qualified and work hard to be here.”

Suzanne Deem, spokeswoman for the office of admissions, said there is significant progress to be attained in diversity and the University is organizing around that effort.

“The admissions policy reflects the University’s mission to attract, admit, enroll and graduate a diverse student body prepared to lead and excel in Texas and beyond,” Deem said.

Communications studies junior Tyler Durman is a Native American student who works in the University’s Multicultural Engagement Center and is an officer in the Longhorn American Indian Council. Durman said the University’s efforts to improve diversity are good, but they can always improve. He said minority high school students may think an education at the University is not feasible.

“I think the University should make the efforts to reach out to students of color so they know there’s a way to get to a higher education program,” Durman said.

In 2010 Hispanic students from Texas high schools made up 25 percent of the student body, but dropped in 2011 to 23 percent.

In an October interview with the University’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, Powers said it is the University’s responsibility and mission to serve the diverse population of the state.

“We must ensure fair access and affordability to every qualified student in Texas,” Powers said. “To leave out any segment of our population is a disservice to the citizens who support us.”

Senator Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, expressed discontent with University diversity to the UT System Chairman at an October meeting of the state Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency. Ellis said University diversity rates are an embarrassment.

The senator said tuition increases keep minority students from attending public universities.

Ellis said the UT System Board of Regents, who set tuition after the 2003 legislature deregulated it, must keep minority students in mind because UT is currently losing them to cheaper colleges.

“If we stand still today we’re going to be in deep trouble,” Ellis said.

UT System Board of Regents Chair Gene Powell testified to the committee and said the board is not inclined towards tuition increases. He said the UT chancellor’s Framework for Excellence action plan focuses on “how we can do more with less” at each of the UT institutions. However, he said the $92 million reduction in state funds at UT-Austin makes it difficult to not raise tuition. Powers recently recommended a 2.6 percent tuition increase for undergraduate students over each of the next two years.