Recruiting Students Earlier Program Stresses Higher Education

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********** CORRECTION (12/14/99)

In recent years, the University of North Florida has admitted about 200 more freshmen each year. Because of a reporter's error, a story on Page A-1 Saturday had an incorrect number.

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Grouped around a table in the Forrest High School library, four students listened to an overview of the steps to college admission and considered their future.

When asked, most described themselves as interested in college, but admitted they had yet to give it much thought.

That is the whole point behind Junior Horizons, one in a series of programs that have emerged as effective recruitment tools for the University of North Florida and helped it to avoid consideration of race or ethnicity in undergraduate admissions.

During the next several weeks, volunteers trained at UNF will speak to juniors at eight Duval County high schools, including those with predominantly African-American enrollments, about the importance of higher education.

"Many of them have not even thought about it," said Becky Webb, one of four guidance counselors at Forrest, a high school with 1,560 students.

With an enrollment like that, most academic counselors will spend one-on-one time only with the students who seek their help.

Junior Horizons, by contrast, puts three or four students at a table with someone who can give them an overview of requirements for community college and university admission.

"It opens their eyes to opportunities after high school," Webb said. "It's the realization of, yes, I only have another year and a half left."

Many of the high school students do not get this kind of information at home, particularly if their parents did not attend college, the volunteers say.

Others may think college is financially impossible.

"They think they can't afford it or they think scholarships are only for smart people," said volunteer Robin St. Peter, a master's student in guidance counseling at UNF.

The strategy of getting to high school students early and targeting those who otherwise might not think of themselves as college material is mirrored in other recruitment and retention efforts begun by UNF in the past several years.

A dialogue with ministers of African-American churches, begun when Adam Herbert was president, helps to identify ways the university can help African-American students attend college.

An alliance with business partners is centered at Raines High School and includes information for students on career choices, mentoring and academic help in college.

The Pathways to Success scholarship program, while not targeting minorities specifically, offers high school students in selected low-income neighborhoods a full scholarship to the university.

The result is an enrollment at UNF this year that is 20 percent minority, about half of which is African-American students. The proportion of minority students is nearly double what it was a decade ago, university records show.

That UNF has done this without weighting applications for race or ethnicity is also a function of its growth and urban location, say administrators, including Deborah Kaye, director of admissions.

UNF, which has grown by about 200 students a year, expects to have room for another 150 freshmen next fall, she said.

"We want to be pro-active," Kaye said. "We're sincere about wanting to maintain a diverse population at UNF."

At older, more selective institutions, including the University of Florida and Florida State University, caps on undergraduate enrollment and a large volume of applications heighten the level of competition.

On these and other state university campuses, administrators have considered the race and ethnicity of applicants to assure diversity on campus and to account for disparities in scores on college entrance exams among racial and ethnic groups. …

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