Naval Academy officials expressed concern yesterday over a decline in minority applicants from last year, though the decline was consistent with an overall drop in applications to the Annapolis military college.
Minority applications for the academy's class of 2009 fell 22.5 percent from the year before, the school's dean of admissions told the school's oversight board. Although that drop only slightly exceeds an overall 21.9 percent decline in applications to the school, Dean David A. Vetter said the academy will step up its minority recruitment efforts beginning this summer.
Minority applications continue to represent about 21 percent of the total applications.
"This year has been a challenge in terms of attracting minority interest," said Vetter, a retired Marine colonel. "But we'll continue to work on this and make it a high priority."
The overall slump is the first in four years for the academy, which saw a surge in applications after the September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Some experts attribute the drop to the conflict in Iraq, where several academy graduates have been among the casualties.
Vetter declined to speculate on the decline, saying it is not a major concern to officials at the academy, where the total number of applications still substantially exceeds the approximately 1,200 slots available and remains well above the 2001 level.
"It really is not troubling," Vetter said. "That's because we're still receiving about 10 applications for every opening."
Vetter said that the academy has also attracted a higher quality pool of applicants for the class of 2009.
"They have higher grade averages, larger course loads and more activities," he said.
Asked about possible causes for the decline in minority applications, Vetter noted competition from other colleges.
"Minority students who are qualified to come to the Naval Academy can get a scholarship to almost any top school in the country with no five-year commitment at the end," he said.
The academy has long worked to attract a diverse pool of applicants - one that reflects the racial and ethnic makeup of the Navy and Marine Corps. Vetter said one of the most diverse brigades in the academy's history is the Class of 2006, which is made up of 299 minorities - about one-fourth of the 1,214-member class.
Recently, an academy professor wrote a magazine article criticizing the academy's admissions process for giving preferential treatment to minorities, athletes and fleet members. The article drew a rebuke from Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the academy's superintendent, who wrote that the college "embraces the ethnic, gender and socio-economic diversity of our society, as well as the Navy and Marine Corps."