EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is part one of a series that highlights diversity at Waynesburg University.
When it comes to racial diversity, Waynesburg University certainly is not breaking any records, said Shari Payne, vice president for enrollment.
“Waynesburg is obviously not a very diverse town,” Payne said. “Greene County is not a diverse county. That’s not my opinion — it’s fact. It’s just not a diverse area.”
According to information gathered from 2015 posted on the university’s website, 91.2 percent of students are white. More recent data show a slight fluctuation in the number of minority students, but the 90 percent or above white population stays consistent.
Payne acknowledges that the lack of diversity among current students stems from a primarily white pool of applicants.
Waynesburg stands out in this regard, as diversifying college campuses has become a national priority for institutions across the country.
In the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court case Fisher v. University of Texas, the court upheld a race-based college admissions process, stating it was legal to consider an applicant’s ethnic background in conjunction with their other application material.
The intention of affirmative action, according to its definition listed on the Legal Information Institute, is to “remedy the results of prior discrimination,” and has been used by colleges to increase their student populations from such backgrounds.
The ethics behind considering race as a factor in admission decisions have been reported on heavily in recent months, with Harvard University allegedly having admissions practices that disadvantage applicants of Asian descent.
Payne said Waynesburg University does not utilize race-conscious admissions or any similar policy.
“We don’t have anything specific,” Payne said. “…We don’t assign points or values or anything like that to a person based on their race.”
Instead, she said, the university uses a “holistic” admissions process. When considering admittance for a student, the admissions office considers their high school transcripts, the courses they’ve completed, extracurricular activities, disciplinary records, SAT and ACT scores and counselor recommendations.
The only special consideration given to applicants outside of typical educational scoring and recommendations is their dedication to faith. As a Christian institution, Waynesburg University searches for students who embrace their values of faith, learning and service.
“We do give value to students who express an interest in our particular mission,” Payne said. “With that being said, we do accept students of all faith or no faith at all.”
Still, in recent years, the university has seen an increase in the enrollment of racially diverse students. Payne said it is not because of any race-based admissions process, though.
Approximately 3.87 percent of the incoming class in 2014 was minorities, compared to 6.65 percent of the freshmen class of 2017. Payne said in 2018, the trend of increased racial diversity continued — something the office of admissions is very proud of.
“It’s not because we’re looking to recruit any particular race or giving any special status, it’s that we are diversifying our recruitment strategy,” Payne said.
The Office of Admissions implemented a redesign of their recruitment efforts 3-4 years ago when minority enrollment began increasing at the university. Recruitment efforts expanded outside of the Pennsylvania and Ohio regions. The university typically draws, said Payne, from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland, though there are students from all over.
“When your primary draw is from areas that aren’t very diverse, you naturally get a less diverse population,” Payne said.
But recently, the university has seen a trend that fewer students in the area are completing their high school degrees in order to be eligible for higher education. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, in the last 12 years, publicly funded Greene County schools have 1,000 fewer students enrolled, going from 6,076 in the 2005 school year to just under 5,000 in 2015.
“We have an understanding that the demographics in our area are declining,” Payne said. “That means that people are moving out of the area, there are fewer high school students graduating and that for us to be successful in enrollment and for us to meet our goals, we need to diversify in the areas that we are looking for students.”
The increase in student racial diversity is the result of more far-reaching recruitment efforts in states such as Maryland and Virginia, Payne said.
The university has no stated goal to raise enrollment of minority students. Future recruitment is to be focused in southern states, which report growth and are producing a larger number of graduates. As a result of these efforts, said Payne, there will be a lasting impact on the makeup of the student population.
“The natural progression from that [recruiting more heavily from southern states] will lead to a more diversified student body. We have to go to new areas that we’ve never been to before or back to areas that we haven’t been to in a while,” Payne said. “So just as a necessity, we have to expand our recruitment efforts and cast a wider net.”
The office of admissions has been “casting” this wider net strategically as a collaborative effort largely out of the need to meet enrollment numbers rather than any goal of increasing diversity, though Payne acknowledges the value of having a diverse student body.
“It’s positive. It’s nothing but positive that society is diversifying,” Payne said. “If our job is to prepare students to be productive members of society then our students need to be exposed to a diverse student body.”