Starting out

Freshman class is one of the most diverse in university history

The 1,375 first-year undergraduates who arrived on campus in late August as members of the Class of 2011 represent the most socio-economically diverse class to enroll at Tufts in recent memory, and one with greater racial and ethnic diversity than the class that preceded it.

The Class of 2011, one of the largest and most diverse in university history, is welcomed to Tufts during matriculation ceremonies on August 29. © ZARA TZANEV

Forty-two percent of the students in the class are receiving financial aid awards, which is 6 percent more than the Class of ’10, according to Lee Coffin, dean of undergraduate admissions. In addition, 27 percent of the class are domestic students of color, a 2 percent increase from last year; there are almost twice as many African-American students as there were in the Class of ’10 when it enrolled.

“This more racially and economically diverse class reflects the mission of Tufts and the values of the community,” said Coffin. “Personally, I’m delighted to introduce this class to the university.”

With 1,375 members, the new class is also one of Tufts’ largest—“on the high side, but not unprecedented,” Coffin said. And with an average SAT score of 1405, it ties with the Class of ’10 for the highest scores of an entering class.

More financial aid
The most significant factor in creating the Class of ’11 was the university’s ability to offer more financial aid—“the success story of the Beyond Boundaries capital campaign,” Coffin said.

One more family photo op © JEFF BEERS

“Last year, we had a freshman aid budget of $10 million,” Coffin said. “This year, we had an aid budget of $12.5 million. So that increase in the budget is significant … it gave the admissions process much more room to maneuver, to create the type of socio-economic diversity we want, to give us the resources we need to select a class.”

Increased resources also contributed to the ability of the admissions office to undertake new recruitment and outreach strategies, producing a hefty boost in the number of applications from minority students, Coffin said. This included a 28 percent increase in African-American applicants; a 15 percent increase in Latino applicants and a 4 percent increase in Asian-American applicants. “Those three groups saw significant growth in the applicant pool, and that’s a function of more resources and our diversity effort,” Coffin said.

The ability to recruit a more diverse student body also was aided by the hiring of a third admissions officer to coordinate diversity recruiting, Coffin said. The deans of the schools of Arts & Sciences and Engineering provided the funding for the new position. “This gave us the ability to visit more high schools and really do the kind of aggressive follow-up required to be successful,” Coffin said.

Moving in © ZARA TZANEV

One program that saw noticeable growth was Telescope Weekend, an annual event that brings prospective minority student applicants to campus and focuses on multiculturalism at Tufts. In 2005, there were 100 students in attendance; in 2006, that number rocketed to nearly 300. Telescope is “a critical introduction to the university to those students,” Coffin said. “It helps build relationships and make them comfortable.”

Tufts was also able to target more high schools in urban areas and build partnerships with staff and guidance counselors there, Coffin said. In particular, the university has been focusing on schools in Boston, Cambridge, Medford, Somerville and New York.

“We want to work with the local schools to give Tufts more visibility,” Coffin said. “This year there are 14 incoming students from the City of Boston, up from seven last year. And those students are of all races and ethnicities. We’re seeing more immigrant kids, those who will be the first members of their families to go to college.”

Kaleidoscope debut
The most recent admissions cycle also saw the inauguration of the Kaleidoscope initiative—an approach pioneered by Arts & Sciences Dean Robert Sternberg that allows students to demonstrate their potential in ways not usually recorded by standardized tests. That is another element in building a diverse class, Sternberg said.

“I believe Kaleidoscope was helpful in selecting applicants who excel in creative, practical and wisdom-related skills, relatively independently of the kinds of analytical skills tapped by the SAT,” he said. “Because different groups of students face different challenges over the course of their lives, increasing the range of skills measured tends automatically to increase the diversity of the applicants viewed as excelling,” he added.

The long goodbye © KARINA PICACHE

The bump in the number of African-American applicants came at the same time the university was dealing with a much-publicized controversy about a racially charged Christmas carol parody that appeared in a student publication. “The irony is that we had such historic success against that backdrop,” Coffin said. “The carol and all the nastiness it invoked could have affected these outcomes. That fact that it didn’t speaks to the resiliency of the campus.

“A year ago, black student enrollment was at a low point. At the time, I said it was an unexpected downturn, and it will correct itself, and it has,” Coffin said. “Last year we had 52 African-American freshmen, and this year, we have 97. Two years ago, it was 90. So we have reversed last year’s enrollment, and built on the cohort we traditionally had.

“Now we have to finish the challenge. Nationally, there is a very competitive landscape in diversity enrollment,” he said. “As fast as we advance our own priorities, we see others doing the same thing. We’ve had success. Now we need to take a deep breath and plan aggressively for the next cycle. The landscape changes every year.”

Helene Ragovin is a senior writer in Tufts’ Office of Publications. This story ran in the September 2007 edition of the Tufts Journal.