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Black Institutions Capitalize On Changing Policies in Calif.

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When Californians passed the 1996 ballot initiative that prohibited most racial and gender preferences in public education and other government programs in their state, school leaders at a small private university in western Ohio took notice.

A historically black institution, Wilberforce University has seen interest from California students rise since the passage of Proposition 209 and the University of California's earlier decision to end racial preferences in admissions. In a typical year, the 850-student university enrolls about four students from California; last fall, the number jumped to 25.

"In the process of doing what we do, we have found ourselves benefitting from Proposition 209," said Kenneth Christmon, the director of admissions at the university in Wilberforce, Ohio. "The reality is that [the students] must now look beyond the state of California."

Though evidence of a trend is still largely anecdotal, officials familiar with minority enrollment patterns have noted that California's minority students, including those who meet the University of California's admissions standards, are looking more seriously at historically black colleges and universities.

The reason, they say, is simple. Although the University of California has stepped up recruitment efforts at the state high schools that typically send few or no students to the university, some minority students still feel they are no longer welcome in the prestigious public university system.

"You don't want to go somewhere that doesn't want you," said Cassandra Roy, a guidance counselor at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles.

Financial factors may also push minority students to pursue higher education outside of California, as Proposition 209 has eliminated race-based scholarships or aid, said Sharon Wallace, a spokeswoman for the United Negro College Fund, a Fairfax, Va.-based consortium of 39 HBCUs.

"Proposition 209 has created a climate that has changed how minority students pursue higher education opportunities," said Ms. Wallace. "This is going to give HBCUs a higher profile."

Yet University of California officials say they have no indication that more of the state's high-achieving minority students are now pursuing postsecondary education outside the Golden State. In January, state university admissions officials were, in fact, "pleased and surprised" to report an increase in the number of applications received by all underrepresented minority groups except for Latinos, said Carla Ferri, the director of undergraduate admissions.

The number of Chicano applicants--students of Mexican descent--rose from 4,759 in 1997 to 5,239 in 1998, for example. Applications from African-American students increased slightly, from 1,905 to 1,965. The number of Latino--or other Hispanic--applicants, though, dropped from 1,745 to 1,691.

Ms. Ferri attributes the increase in the number of applications to a 5 percent rise in the number of high school graduates statewide, coupled with intensified recruitment efforts in underrepresented areas. And while the number of applications rose, the percentage of underrepresented students applying to the university held steady from 1997 to 1998. Those percentages ranged from 6.3 percent for Chicano and Latino students to 12.2 percent for American Indian applicants for the coming academic year.

"We were worried that the discussion on affirmative action would signal a drop in interest among underrepresented students, but that did not happen," Ms. Ferri said. "The message we've sent is clear: If you're qualified and talented we're looking for you."

Recruitment Efforts

But even as UC officials are boosting outreach efforts in California, so are recruiters for historically black colleges and universities.

At Crenshaw High, where 90 percent of the students are black, seniors are typically visited by a host of different HBCU recruiters. This year, though, Ms. Roy says she has noticed an increase in both the number and stature of visitors from historically black institutions.

During a recruitment tour of Los Angeles in November, Rutherford H. Adkins, then the president of Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., made a personal visit to Crenshaw High. While there, Mr. Adkins, who has since died, publicly promised three of the school's top students major scholarships if they chose to attend the private university.

Fisk's efforts in California have paid off, said Lynn Price, the dean of enrollment management at the university. With just 800 students, the school has always been able to attract approximately 50 new students from California every year, and applications from the state are on the rise, she said.

The motivating factors behind a student's choice to attend an HBCU are often quite varied, said Sterling Hudson, a vice provost at Morehouse College in Atlanta, a 2,700-student historically black institution for men. Although Morehouse may ultimately benefit from a "backing off" of competition from California's public institutions, students also seek Morehouse because of the school's intimacy, academics, and tradition of producing African-American leaders, Mr. Hudson said.

For Californians, Proposition 209 is likely just one of many factors, he said.

"Students who already had Morehouse on their list might move it up on the list because of what's being communicated by Proposition 209," Mr. Hudson said.

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