Students from big cities adjust to life at CMU

When Farmington Hills senior Alexis Baker came to Central Michigan University as a Multicultural Advancement Scholar, she expected its campus to be more diverse.

“I come from an area that is quite a bit diverse so coming to CMU and seeing the kind of segregation and lack of diversity was a shock,” Baker said. “I was really shocked to see how separated each racial group seems to be here and I had a hard time finding where I fit in because I didn’t directly identify with any of the groups 100 percent.”

In the past five years, CMU has experienced a 50 percent change in on-campus minority enrollment. Compared to about 10 years ago, the minority student enrollment on campus has nearly doubled.

Patricia Young, who works in University Admissions and focuses on recruiting multicultural students, said CMU’s freshman class this year was made up of 22 percent multicultural students. However, CMU’s overall student population is less diverse than that, with multicultural students making up about 15 percent of the undergraduate student body. She wants to see multicultural students make up 20 percent of the undergraduate student body by 2020.

Bringing students to campus

Young said a lot of efforts go into recruiting students. Their office tracks students using a data management system and keeps data on them, sending out emails, brochures and follow-up calls.

Recently, their office mailed promotional materials to 10, 000 students. Soon, they’ll send an email to 20, 000 more.

Each fall, the recruiters visit about 1000 high schools in total and throughout one year, about 200-300 groups of students travel to CMU by bus to get a tour of campus.

“The point is we want students to be exposed to college,” Young said. “It’s not realistic that they will all come here. We want to expose them to a college campus and that’s what it’s about.”

She said in terms of recruitment, face to face interactions go a long way.

“We’re the fourth largest (university in Michigan) so at some level our university holds its own weight,” Young said. “There will be some students that our office never talked to and they’ll still apply but there are some students who will only apply if we talk to them.”

CMU receives approximately 21,000 applications per year.

However, Young said CMU still has to be strategic in its recruitment.

Recruiting diverse students

Young travels to Saginaw, Flint, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Wyoming and Muskegon to recruit students. There is a separate recruitment team that works in Detroit, and there are now two recruiters who focus on Illinois.

Because of this recent focus on recruiting in and near Chicago, the number of students from Chicago attending CMU has increased. In addition to having two recruiters in the area, CMU brings in many bus groups from there, paying for the students’ transportation and meals, Young said.

Any out of state student with a 2.75 grade point average or higher can receive in-state tuition from CMU, she said, which often makes attending CMU cheaper than attending school at home would be for Chicago students.

“A cool thing about our diversity changing and increasing is that our student body is also coming from more locations too,” Young said.

In terms of recruiting diverse students from within the state of Michigan, Young said the Multicultural Advancement Scholarship is a strong recruitment tool. The scholarship is open to anyone, but because it focuses on diversity, it tends to attract more diverse students, she said.


Part of the change in CMU’s student population is because of the changes in Michigan’s population.

“The state of Michigan’s demographics are changing. You’re seeing a decrease in the white student populations in high schools just across the board,” Young said.

Retaining diverse students

University Admissions works closely with the Office for Institutional Diversity, which focuses more on retention once students attend CMU.

“I would say it’s important to be intentional to make sure all students are integrated,” Young said. “Maybe you’ve got a student coming from the suburbs – they might have easier integration because of what they’re used to versus a student from the inner city who might’ve had less resources.”

In additional to the Office for Institutional Diversity, CMU has other programs and resources aimed at helping and retaining diverse students, such as Multicultural Academic Student Services and the Center for Inclusion and Diversity. This past year, the Office of Student Activities and Involvement hosted IMPACT for the first time. IMPACT was free for students and was successful this year, Young said.

“(IMPACT) gives our multicultural students kind of their own programming. Obviously there’s Leadership Safari and they will do both,” she said. “It’s required that students who do IMPACT also do Safari. It kind of gives them an opportunity to network with other students like themselves and they were also able to take a lot more out of Leadership Safari.”

However, Young said more could always be done to provide resources to diverse students, especially at a university where diversity is present but not prevalent.

She said she doesn’t necessarily think multicultural students are well integrated on campus because she has seen multicultural students reach out for help for a variety of reasons. She said their office is open to these students, even if speaking with them isn’t in the recruiters’ job descriptions.

“It’s all of our jobs. From professors to staff to financial aid to admissions to retention. We all need to be intentional about supporting all of our students and sometimes you just have to take a couple extra steps to make sure that it’s an even playing field,” she said.

She said CMU’s location also poses challenges because universities in bigger towns or cities might have more resources in the area or more diverse communities.

“We’re Mount Pleasant, Michigan. We’re not a big city so students who are comfortable with big cities, there’s a challenge there,” she said. “At the same time, we’re a fantastic university and have a lot to offer students. We have a big presence of Chicago students on campus.”

Adjusting to campus life

Baker said there are great resources for students on campus. However, she said she only knows about them because she’s a Multicultural Advancement Scholar. She isn’t sure how well they’re promoted to other students. She also thinks CMU is very segregated.

“I think it stems from people just sticking around what they know and a good portion of people that go here grew up in rural areas with less diversity than there is here,” Baker said. “I think we all just need to step out of our comfort zone a bit to improve the situation.”

Detroit junior Ahsha Davis said she was skeptical about the diversity at CMU when she went on a campus tour. She chose CMU because she received a good scholarship.

Now that she’s here, she loves CMU but thinks the diversity and inclusion at CMU is somewhere in the middle; it’s getting there, she said, but it could still use some work.

“I think it depends on the group. I know living in the dorms is very accepting and inclusive,” Davis said. “Greek Life and (Student Activities and Involvement) are so inclusive. I think the improvement is more so within the student organizations. Inviting others and showing diversity will encourage others to take part.”

  Chicago                                        Mount Pleasant

An increasing number of students from Chicago are attending CMU. These photos illustrate just a few differences they might have to adjust to.