Denise Walden, associate director of admissions and multicultural enrollment, saw the increase coming. "In all honesty," she said, "I feel vindicated."
There are 90 ALANA students in the Class of 2010, up from 54 in the Class of 2009. Among them are students coming from Washington, D.C., Juneau, Alaska, and in between"students who chose Colby after a long and carefully considered recruitment process. The result is expected to be one of the biggest jumps in ALANA enrollment among colleges nationally this year, according to Director of Admissions Steve Thomas, who recently compared numbers with peer institutions. "I expected eighty," Thomas said. "I didn't expect ninety."
Even the more modest expectation would have been good news at Colby, where minority recruitment and retention has long been a priority but results"hindered by Colby's location, among other factors"have been frustrating. That reaffirmed priority led to a task force headed by Thomas to more carefully consider how the College was communicating with prospective ALANA students and why numbers remained static.
Walden, who came to Colby three years ago from the University of Denver, began to lay the foundation for the uptick simply by staying in her position, allowing consistency in recruitment programs. She and other admissions officers have established closer and longer-term relationships with high schools, "getting on a first-name basis with guidance counselors, whatever it takes," Walden said.
As part of a five-year plan implemented in 2004, the timing of admissions mailings was reconsidered to keep Colby on prospective students' radar, and campus-visit offers were focused on students who had shown they were seriously considering Colby by submitting transcripts, test scores, and a written essay. "By the time you've done all that paperwork, you have some sort of commitment to the school," Walden said. "There's a bit of a selection process [for subsidized campus visits] now."
When students and parents do visit, they go to classes, meet with faculty and admissions officers, with Director of Financial Aid Lucia Whittelsey '73, and with Associate Dean of Multicultural Affairs Sammie Robinson.
The intent is to show parents, many of whom have never been to Maine or New England, that Colby is a supportive community, Walden said. "They want people who care about their student," she said.
An unprecedented number of students and parents were convinced this year, and Thomas and Walden feel the numbers will be sustained for the Class of 2011. Thomas said he is analyzing results to better understand where and why the effort succeeded and how it might be tweaked. Already admissions has decided to have fewer but larger campus visits to allow students to meet more potential classmates, he said.
Walden, meanwhile, pointed to a sign on her office wall: "20 in '07." Having achieved 19 percent ALANA students in the incoming class, "I'm shooting for twenty percent," she said.