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Poll: When Choosing a College, High School Students Say Diversity Matters

A new poll indicates that minority high school students believe that racial diversity is one of the most important factors when deciding which college they will attend.

The poll, conducted by Widmeyer Communications, a public relations and marketing firm with offices in New York and Washington, D.C., reveals that 81 percent of minority high school students say that when choosing a college to attend, it is important that the college is diverse, or has students from a wide range of racial and ethnic backgrounds.

The poll, which surveyed more than 300 minority high school students between Aug.14 and Aug. 31, 2007, does not necessarily come as a surprise to college officials who find themselves caught in a conundrum: how to encourage racial diversity without depending too heavily on race-conscious affirmative action programs.

The poll also surveyed about 600 current minority college students from across the country and found that 68 percent of minority students agree that diversity was important when they chose what college to attend, including 12 percent who say that it was one of the most important factors in their decision. Additionally, two-thirds of high school students say they expect college to be more diverse than high school, and 55 percent say they expect students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds to socialize and study together more than in high school. These expectations are true across the board for Black, Hispanic, and American Indian students.

“This was a really interesting study because it shows that diversity is important to high school and college-age students,” says Mary Elizabeth Burke, a senior analyst at Widmeyer. “Most of the students believe that colleges are doing something around diversity issues, but also believe that more can be done.”

Lionel Walker, a Black high school senior from Princeton, N.J., has a checklist for the college that he plans to attend. He’s already crossed off his list schools that lack racial diversity.

“I am not looking for a quota of Black students,” he says, “but I also don’t want to have to go for days looking for someone who looks like me.”

Walker plans to apply to Princeton and Rutgers universities and the University of Pennsylvania, colleges that he says have made significant progress toward increasing their minority population. He has opted not to apply to historically Black colleges and universities, much to the chagrin of his parents who both graduated from Howard University.

“It’s important that I am able to interact with all kinds of people when I am in college,” he says. “I want the diverse experience.”

Of the college students surveyed, most minority students say that they are relatively satisfied with the amount of diversity they encounter at school, but about 74 percent of minority college students say that colleges should be pushed to find better ways to bring students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds together to socialize and study.

“It can all start in the classroom,” says Michael Rivers, a student at Camden County College. “The best way to foster diversity is to offer more diverse courses.”

Audio Interview: What High School Students Say

Diverse tested the results of the poll by talking to some college-bound high school students from Reston, Va. Listen to what they had to say in this audio interview. 

Here, Maya Goodwin and Jyoti Jindal, two Reston, Va. high school students, talk about how diversity figures into their college selection decision.

Audio Interview: High School Students (mp3): 

–Jamal E. Watson

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