In arguably one of the boldest attempts to deliberately recruit a specific demographic group, the University of Arkansas has approved a $300,000 marketing initiative to attract larger numbers of African-American and Hispanic students to the state’s flagship university.
University officials say they were impressed by a proposal put forth by Advantage Communications, a Little Rock, Ark.-based company, to develop a diversity strategy to attract minority students.
“I have said that increasing diversity at the University of Arkansas is my top priority, and now is the time to move forward with a specific initiative to complement the efforts currently under way by our admissions office,” says Chancellor John White. “It is imperative that the university be a more diverse, welcoming community that reflects the cultural and ethnic makeup of our state, nation and world.”
Michael Steele, the president and CEO of Advantage Communications, says he was inspired by White’s dedication to diversity. Even though the university had a well laid-out infrastructure, Steele says that from a marketing perspective, UA was not “a diversified brand.”
Since May, the slogan “University of Arkansas, Make a Move Now” has been featured on television and radio spots targeted to reach the Black community. The university increased the frequency of the advertisements during the NBA Finals, because research had showed that nearly a third of the Finals audience is Black.
Steele says the campaign involves a two-fold message; offering a personal invitation to potential students and addressing the barriers to getting into college itself, such as financial aid and ACT scores.
“The Razorback Workshops” are geared at likely college-bound students in ninth- through 12th-grades, offering them an opportunity to learn about UA’s degree programs and admission requirements. The workshops also provide advice on improving college applications, says Steele.
“Instead of asking the students to come to the university, we’re taking the university to the students,” he adds.
Although preliminary admissions numbers are not available yet, “We are hopeful this [investment] will produce students of color,” says G. David Bearhart, UA’s vice chancellor for university advancement.
Many UA alumni are also hopeful that the campaign will have an impact.
“From the student perspective, that can be quite a culture shock when you don’t have faculty or other students you can relate to,” Eplurivus West, a 1993 UA graduate, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. During his time at the university, West served as vice president of the Black Student Association and spoke with university administrators about the need to bring more minority group members to the Fayetteville campus.
“[The campaign] is a significant move,” West says.
Black students made up about 5.5. percent of the university’s 17,821 students in the fall 2005 semester. Hispanics comprise 2.1 percent of the student body.
According to a 2004 study on population projections conducted by the UA Center for Economic Research, the number of Hispanic residents in Northwest Arkansas has increased from 29,963 in 2000 to approximately 43,000 in 2005. That rapid increase in residents could account for the 24.8 percent jump in Hispanic UA students between 2004 and 2005.
“This is the most aggressive effort ever put together to enhance diversity,” says Laura Jacobs, associate director for university relations. “It is as much as an awareness campaign as a diversity campaign … and we will pay dividends for years to come.”
— By Shilpa Banerji
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