This year, as part of a broader effort to promote diversity and inclusion work across campus, the Office of Admissions created the Student Access Advisory Board. The board consists of 14 students from a wide range of backgrounds and was created to advise the Office of Admissions in their efforts to recruit students from different backgrounds.
“We hope to hear directly from students on their own college search process to learn more about strategies and tools we can use to better identify and service students from access backgrounds,” said Associate Dean of Admissions and Director of Access and Programming, Andrew Moe.
The board intends to meet several times per semester to discuss issues of identifying, recruiting, enrolling, and retaining underserved groups and to determine recommendations to bring to the Admissions Office to improve their current efforts. Underrepresented groups that the office of admissions focuses on includes but are not limited to: first-generation, low-income, undocumented, students of color, LGBTQ, non-English speaking families, rural, and community college transfers.
The Office of Admissions already has several different initiatives to address the needs of inadequately represented students. These steps include programs like Discover Swat, which is an organized overnight visit focused on students from underrepresented backgrounds, and Swat Light, which allows brings admitted students from these backgrounds to campus.The Office of Admissions is working on finding new ways to get students information about making applying to Swarthmore more accessible. They are going about this by updating the website and sending out more targeted emails, among other approaches. The college is also partnering with several other area universities and colleges to host a financial aid night for Spanish speaking parents in Philadelphia. The Office hopes that SAAB will serve as a way for students at the college to have input on and help improve these programs.
Sara Planthaber ’17 is an admissions fellow and a member of SAAB. She believes the student perspectives offered by the board will be able to help the Office of Admissions improve their outreach efforts. She described how the group’s first session proceed.
“A huge part of the meeting was just going around and everyone sharing their story, where they come from. We have a really great diverse group of people,” said Planthaber.
She is excited to work more closely with the group on figuring out what methods will work to reach students. The students on SAAB will be able to provide a unique perspective to the Office of Admissions on how best to reach students who are in the college application process. One group of students Planthaber is especially interested in is students from rural areas.
“More diverse voices is always better, especially people from underrepresented backgrounds. I come from a rural area and I feel like people coming from that background have a different perspective on education, especially higher education,” said Planthaber. “I think that having people from different backgrounds is really important whenever we have big conversations on campus. It is important to have a range of opinions … in order to come to a conclusion that takes into account everyone that might be affected by it.”
According to Planthaber, one of the main difficulties in reaching underrepresented groups is the inability to identify them, such as students from non-traditional families or who identify as LGBTQ. She says that it can be helpful to use specific messaging when trying to recruit students. For example, talking about how Swarthmore is unique in the way it uses a need-blind admissions process for domestic and undocumented students would help recruit undocumented students, and discussing the loan-free financial aid process could help make attendance to the institution appear more possible to low-income students. However the strategy does not work unless the college can identify these students and find a way to get them the information.
One way the college is working to identify these students is by connecting with counselors at schools that have a large number of students belonging to demographics underrepresented at the college.
“A big research project that we were doing in between interviews this summer was looking up—going state by state —and finding counselor information for schools that we don’t have email addresses for. We, as an admissions office, can send [information] to the counselors so they can pass it onto their students,” said Planthaber. “[It was] a rural focused initiative as well as to try to increase religious activity on campus, so we are trying to reach out to small religious schools as well.” In addition to reaching out to counselors at high schools, the Office is also using data technology to identify communities that are likely to be underrepresented.
“We are starting to use population-based and U.S. Census data to target students in low-income zip codes, low-income counties, and rural areas. We are also using proxies, such as federal free and reduced lunch rates by school, to target under-resourced high schools and their students,” said Moe.
Although implementing programs to reach underrepresented students is not a unique measure among peer institutions, Moe says Swarthmore’s programs are unique in the type of technology it employs.
“We believe we might be leading the way in terms of leveraging technology to identify potential under-served students. We recently adopted Slate, a technology platform designed for admissions offices, and have used Slate to increase our outreach efforts to counselors, advisors, parents, and students,” said Moe.
Planthaber says that, in addition to the Office of Admissions, efforts current students can help increase the diversity on campus by reaching out to other people in their community, especially if they consider themselves part of an underrepresented group of students on campus.