Academy sees rising minority numbers

But diversity goals, particularly for African-American students, remain unmet

July 09, 2008|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN REPORTER

The number of minority students enrolling at the Naval Academy has increased steadily in recent years, a trend that college officials attribute to renewed efforts to recruit in urban areas. But the numbers fall below diversity goals, particularly for African-Americans, who make up less than 7 percent of the incoming class.

The Class of 2012 that enrolled at the Annapolis military college this month includes 351 minority students - 28 percent - making it the most diverse freshman class in more than a decade, academy officials reported yesterday. Four years ago, minority students made up 21.6 percent of the freshman class.

Officials pointed out that the numbers fluctuate and that some students will drop out. But they said the steady rise in minority enrollment directly corresponds with new initiatives, including more recruiting trips to areas such as Baltimore and New York City.

"We're proud that we are here," the academy's superintendent, Vice Adm. Jeffrey L. Fowler, told the academy's Board of Visitors yesterday. "We are not done."

The academy has long struggled to attract minority students, a challenge that arises in part from the barriers that blacks once faced in the Navy. Navy officials have increasingly expressed concern about minorities in the enlisted ranks not being represented proportionally in the officer ranks.

The academy graduated its first black in 1949, but in recent decades the number of blacks at the academy has hovered around 6 percent.

This year's freshman class of 1,247 students includes 83 African-Americans, or 6.6 percent. That compares with the 59 black students who made up about 5 percent of last year's freshman class.

The number of graduating minority students rose several years in a row starting in 2004but dipped this year. Of the 1,037 midshipmen to graduate in May, one-fifth were minority students, including 93 Hispanics, 51 African-Americans, 49 Asian-Americans and 17 American Indians.

Bruce Latta, the academy's dean of admissions, said in an interview yesterday that standards have not been lowered to increase admissions.

Academy leaders reported in June 2007 that the number of African-Americans applying to the military college had dropped nearly 20 percent since 2001, a trend they could not fully explain. But officials said yesterday that applications from blacks have increased in the past two years.

They have started a number of initiatives in recent years, the biggest being summer camps for high school seniors designed to introduce them to academy life.

Recruiters have also begun targeting areas that traditionally produce few applicants, including Los Angeles, New York and Baltimore.

After receiving 44 applications from New York City residents two years ago, academy officials made repeated trips to the city, said Latta. They held recruiting forums, sent members of the gospel choir and boxing teams into urban areas such as Brooklyn, and called prospective students at home. This year, the academy received 75 applications from the city.

"In every community where we have not had much traction, the primary reason always is awareness," Latta said.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat who serves on the academy's Board of Visitors, said the school is still a long way from meeting its diversity goals. He said yesterday that the academy should consider providing more money for the Naval Academy Preparatory School, traditionally one of the biggest suppliers of minority students at the academy.

Also yesterday, academy officials said they are working with the nation's other military colleges to develop a uniform set of definitions for reporting sexual assaults.

The effort comes in response to a Government Accountability Office report released in March that sexual assaults at the academies were being inconsistently reported. The study attributed the inconsistencies to the varying terms used by the academies.

Officials from the academies will discuss the issue at a conference this month. Guidelines could come from the Pentagon in the next year, said Capt. Ricks Polk, the Naval Academy's departing sexual assault response coordinator.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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