Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Case Study Review: Mountain State University Opportunity Scholarships: Encouraging Students of Color to Participate in Higher Education


This paper will analyze the case study “Mountain State University Opportunity Scholarships: Encouraging Students of Color to Participate in Higher Education” which was written by Amy Aldous Bergerson of the University of Utah. It will take a perspective from the angle of one of the sides in the situation, define the problem presented in the case study, indicate what information is missing that would be helpful in making a decision, it will propose and analyze several possible solutions including possible consequences, select a preferred solution, propose a plan for implementation, and conclude with ideas for evaluating the decision.


For this case study, I will take the perspective of President Sam Clark. This will allow me to examine this case from the view of the upper levels of higher education administration.

Problem Definition

The university has had a difficult time in building a diverse student body. There are several reasons that are listed as possible causes of this. Mountain State University is located in a state that is 89% white. As such, there is not a large pool demographically to recruit from within the state for diversity purposes. Additionally, a high percentage of diversity high school students do not actually apply to attend any college. There is a belief among many of them that they can not afford college.

The current student population is short on diversity. Only 7 percent of students can be considered as being from groups that would add to ethnic diversity. As the University president, I believe this is a problem. All students (including the white ones) benefit when they learn in a racially diverse community. As such, I have announced several strategies for pursuing a more diverse student body including scholarships and guaranteed admission for all students who graduate in the top 10% of their high school class.

Further, the state that Mountain State University is located in is very conservative. The state government is controlled by conservative elements. Attempting to diversify the student body for the sake of diversity alone may not be perceived well. As such, I will need to tread carefully to garner support from the state officials who provide funding for my institution.

Missing Information

There are several missing pieces of information that I would like to know about. For example, does the university have a reputation as a place that is welcoming or threatening to students who are from a minority group? Is there a past history which would raise a warning flag in the minority population that tells them to steer clear of Mountain State University? If so, there needs to be some preliminary work done to help the university community acknowledge and address this image problem.

Also, have there been initiatives in the past to try and diversify the student body? If they failed, what were the reasons? A list of previous efforts in this area would make it easier for me to find a successful strategy. I would be able to either discard or alter failed ideas. I could also build on any strategy that resulted in success.
Further, I would like to know about other institutions of higher education in the state. How are they doing in attracting a diverse student body? I would like to see how the competition is or is not addressing the issue and what success they may be having. Is there a school in the state that is predominately African-American? If there is, there might be a good reason that many minority students are not coming to Mountain State.

Recruiting against such a school would be very difficult and it would certainly alter my approach to the situation.

Possible Solutions (and Consequences)

As I have already announced my plan for more diversity, I will need to stick with it. However, there are different solutions that may allow me to achieve my goals of increasing diversity in the student. Each solution will have potential benefits and consequences.

The initiative I announced centered around giving $5000 a year scholarships to students who were first-generation college or economically disadvantaged. I did not specify that the students had to be minority. However, as minority students would almost always qualify I am hoping that a large portion of the scholarship awardees will be minority. Further, the award only pays for tuition and fees. It does not cover lodging. As such, this will skew the award winners to those living in the local community. As the city has a 20% minority population (as compared to 11% for the state as a whole) this also would help to make sure that much of the money goes into minority hands.

Coupled with this scholarship, I also announced that all students who graduated in the top 10% of their high school class would be assured of admission and would receive a one time $1000 scholarship. As many minority students are clumped together in the same districts, I am hoping this will tempt some of the high performers in primarily minority districts. (And it will be nice if we get lots of other top notch students too regardless of their ethnic background.)

One way of following up this announcement would be to just do what has been proposed. Now that it is in place, we can sit back and wait and see if this helps increase diversity in the student body. This is a substantial program and it has already gotten good PR. It has been well received and in many ways will promote itself. While we will continue to fund it and tell recruits about it, we will not necessarily do any promotional activity.

There are several advantages to this. By allowing the new program to work quietly, we will not raise the ire of anyone in the state government. If we actively target it to minority groups, we would face a backlash from the many in state who oppose affirmative action type programs. We would also be able to see if creating new scholarships based on economic status all by itself can make positive improvements in ethnic diversity.

There is one big drawback to this approach. If it is not actively promoted, it might not reach the audience we want. It could be that white students take up almost all of the scholarship slots. Or, many of the scholarships may go unused.

A second approach could be to aggressively market the scholarship all over the state. In addition to having our admissions staff pitch this at every school in the state, we could invest in some TV and radio advertisements. If tons of potential students and parents here about this, we have a good chance of getting a good response rate.

The drawback to this is that most of the applicants for the scholarship will probably be white if we promote it everywhere in the state. I want to help low income students regardless of race but the point of this scholarship is to increase ethnic diversity. Large scale promotion may actually hinder that goal. Further, a PR campaign would cost money which would reduce the amount which could be used for scholarships.

A third plan would be to selectively promote the scholarships. For example, we could identify the poorest 25 school districts in the state and push the scholarships at these schools. Minority students are proportionately over-represented in poor school districts so selectively targeting these schools would mean we would be more closely targeting the group we want to recruit with this scholarship.

This plan could backfire if some in the state government see this as an attempt to sneakily promote an affirmative action scholarship. As such, it is important to go about this quietly. At the same time, we can honestly claim that this scholarship is not about race but is instead about economic status.

Finally, there is an additional strategy that can be used with any of the three options listed above. This is to more aggressively recruit foreign students. Students from Asia and Africa would definitely add to diversity on campus. An African from Kenya adds just as much (if not more) diversity to campus than an African-American student from the local community. As an added bonus, many of these students would study at the
expense of their home governments. Foreign students would help to give all students a better education by adding new perspectives to classes and to campus life.

Preferred Solution

While all the above solutions have merits, I am going to go with number three. I want to actively promote these scholarships in a way that results in more diversity in the student body. No publicity would probably doom this program. Too much would bring in too many white applicants. However, if we carefully target the poorest districts in the state and single them out for aggressive publicity about the scholarships, I think we have a better chance of recruiting a more diverse student body. Just as importantly, picking districts based on economics will give us political cover if our actions unintentionally attract the attention of the state government in a negative light.

On top of this, I also want to beef up recruitment of foreign students of color. They will not qualify for this scholarship but I think our admissions department could assign staff to getting the word out about our school in Asia and Africa. Just a few percentage points swing in foreign enrollment could have a huge impact on the diversity of the student body.

Implementation Plan

I will start by calling in members of my senior staff and telling them about what we are going to do. I would have them instruct their staff to support the admissions department in this endeavor in every way possible. I would also talk in depth with my Head of Admissions to make sure that he understands exactly what we are doing and what the goals are for the scholarships.

At this point, we would identify the 25 poorest school districts in the state. After doing this, we would make plans for targeting them for scholarship recruitment. The admissions department would send recruiters out to each school hyping the scholarships and how great Mountain State University is. I would personally call the superintendent of each school district asking for his/her support. Further, I would authorize limited media buys in the local markets of each school district which would be aimed at parents and grandparents.

After making initial contacts, I would make sure that the recruiters would maintain a roster all minority students who showed any desire at Mountain State University at all. I would have the admissions department make multiple follow up contacts with each. I would also encourage the admissions department to contact parents with offers of possible free money. In the case of particularly talented minority students who are on the cusp, I would personally call them myself. Perhaps they would be impressed by the fact that the President of the university cared enough to call them himself.


This plan ultimately succeeds or fails based on the number of new minority students who enroll at Mountain State University. To evaluate it, I would be looking at the following:

1. How many new minority students enrolled at Mountain State University in the first and second years of this scholarship?

2. How many scholarships went unused or went to white students?

3. How well received were the scholarships by the targeted school districts? Was there cooperation from the district administration in helping to promote the scholarships?

4. Did this plan generate any controversy over affirmative action in the state? If so, did the use of economic factors rather than race provide me and the school with adequate political cover?

5. Is foreign student enrollment up? If so, can it be traced to efforts in the admission department?

6. How well are the new minority students doing? What is our minority retention rate? Are the scholarship recipients being successful on campus?

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