The University of Nebraska at Omaha is growing in numbers of underrepresented and first-generation college students.
Last year’s numbers of incoming underrepresented freshmen students were close to one third out of 2,069. Now with an upcoming freshmen class of 2,105 for the 2017-2018 school-year, according to Recruitment Associate Director Lina T. Stover, “675 of them are underrepresented students.”
For the last three academic years, UNO has been consistent on its growing enrollment numbers. This is also the case with the diverse population and underrepresented students on campus. When current enrollment numbers are compared to those of 10 years ago, the contrast is apparent.
According to the Office of Institutional Effectiveness Fact Book data, during the Fall 2007 semester, 1,506 undergraduate students were minority ethnic (African American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American). By Fall 2012, the numbers saw an increase of almost 50 percent, with a number of 2,121. The latest Fact Book available is that of the 2016 academic year, and it shows that the total number of undergraduate students within these four minority ethnic groups was 2,812 for the fall semester, almost double the students of 10 years ago.
For Senior Director of Inclusion and Director of Multicultural Affairs James W. Freeman, a more diverse campus means more real- world experiences for students at UNO.
“This is where these kids are learning how to relate to others that might be different from them,” Freeman said.
A more diverse campus brings to every student the possibility to express their ideas and leads to respectful conversations among students from all demographics.
“What is the most diverse place in the whole state? It is probably the University of Nebraska at Omaha when you talk about education,” Freeman said.
In order to accomplish larger numbers in enrollment, UNO’s retention goals are a factor. According to Stover, “It is a combination of both retention and the incoming class being more diverse.” This, along with purposeful connections and partnerships with institutions at certain demographic locations, has contributed to the growing diverse population at UNO.
“Us collaborating with Omaha Public Schools has an effect that will increase our numbers just because the demographics of their schools make that happen,” Stover said.
One example of this is Omaha South High School which has a large, diverse population and focuses on getting their students to college.
“We have tried to be very good partners of South High, increasing our presence [AND] making sure that we are working with students to ensure that their transition to college is easier.”
Another important number for UNO’s enrollment data is the increase of first-generation students during the last three years. Around 44 percent of the current undergraduate class is composed of first-generation students.
“Parallel to these minority numbers is the fact that a large percentage or our students are first-generation students,” Stover said about the programs UNO has for recruitment. These programs are mostly targeted at first-generation students and there is an overlap between the recruitment of first-generation and underrepresented students.
One of the biggest challenges for underrepresented and first-generation students is financial sustainability for education.
“The biggest problem has been keeping our students here because of financial need. A lot of them have to go back to work,” Freeman said.
UNO institutions and organizations like the Thompson Learning Community are doing a good job at having a support system to help those students find those opportunities to meet their financial needs, Freedman said.
First-generation college students many times don’t know the landscape of college. They need to make use of the resources available to them in order to make the most out of their college career.
“You have to use all the support systems you can, you have to find where those support systems are and use those places,” Freedman said.
These resources are available to all students at UNO through departments and organizations such as the Academic and Career Development Center, the Department of Black Studies, Office of Latino and Latin American Studies and Native American Studies.