In an honors program that is predominately white, it can be hard for students of color to connect.
According to Abel Ykalo, a sophomore honors student majoring in computer science at Colorado State University, low diversity makes it difficult to talk about controversial topics because he knows when he signs up for seminars he will be the only person of color in the class, or one of two.
“I’m in a space where everything I say is the only thing that’s heard from my perspective because I’m the only one who shares my perspective,” Ykalo said. “It adds some pressure to it and it makes more classes when we talk about tougher subjects more difficult. Also, I understand it’s very important that I do say something because, if I don’t say something, my perspective isn’t there what so ever.”
Ykalo, who is in his second year in the honors program and his first year working as a peer mentor, said the diversity is lower than he would like and what the program would like.
“I don’t know exactly what (the program) could do to improve it, but I know in my belief, it’s just lower than what is ideal,” Ykalo said.
According to the CSU Honors Program Director Donald Mykles, in hopes of increasing diversity, the program changed the application review process by working with admissions to link the application to the honors program to the Slate system, an electronically-based platform that CSU admissions uses to review applications.
According to Mykles, the program worked with the vice president for diversity, which resulted in changes to the application.
“We don’t want to make the application intimidating,” Mykles said. “Even the kinds of question we ask, the way we ask them – we have really worked to improve in that way.”
According to Ernest Chavez, a professor in CSU’s department of psychology, a lack of diversity can be due to first-generation student status and a lack of knowledge about honors programs.
“It’s highly unlikely that their high school career counselor was able to make them aware of it, because they don’t have a logistical background on how to do this and what it entails,” Chavez said. “I don’t think they are aware of those programs and what the benefit is of going into those programs.”
Chavez said CSU has a number of underrepresented students, specifically African American and Latinos, and many students come from schools dominated by the same ethnicity.
“We have (student) who are involved in National Honors Societies at their high schools or graduated in the top one percent of their graduating classes,” Chavez said. “Having said that, African American and Latino students now are more likely to graduate from institutions — high schools that are 90 percent minority — then they have been ever.”
Mykles said the Honors Program worked with the intention to increase the number of applications in general, but specifically increase applications from ethnically diverse students and first generation students.
“The students apply to CSU then they are notified if they are admitted,” Mykles said. “If they have a 3.7 or above GPA then they’re sent an email saying that they may qualify for the program and tell them a little bit about the program and they’re invited to apply with a link.”
According to Mykles, the application changes were very successful. The number of applications submitted increased from about 1,100 in fall of 2016 to 1,800 in the fall 2017.
Mykles said, after altering their application, not only have applications increased overall, but there has been an increase in applications of those who identify as an ethnic minority.
This year, the honors freshman class was larger than ever at 421 incoming students compared to 395 students in 2016, according to a study by Institutional Research.
The 2017 incoming class is the most diverse class in the history of the program with 21.5 percent of the first semester freshman reporting as ethnically diverse.
In fall 2016, 81.5 percent of the first-year honors students identified as white, which in fall 2017 decreased to 77.7 percent.
Incoming honors students who identified as as Asian decreased from 3.3 percent in 2016 to 2.9 percent in 2017, and honors student who identify as Black or African American also decreased 1 percent in 2016 to 0.2 percent in 2017.
The percentage of students who identified as Native American remained consistent between 2016 and 2017.
Increases were seen in students who identified as Hispanic/Latino and multi-cultural.
Between 2016 and 2017 the percentage of Hispanic/Latino students increased from 8.4 percent to 12.6 percent, and the number of students who identified as multi-racial increased from 3.8 to 5.2 percent, between 2016 and 2017.
In the application review process, Mykles said the program takes a holistic approach.
“What we look for is mostly what kind of person this individual is,” Mykles said. “They respond to several questions about themselves, about how they envision themselves in the program.”
The program also considers letters of recommendation, passions, service activities, grades and credits from advanced placement, international baccalaureate and dual-credit courses.
“We recognize there are going to be difference between school districts in terms of resources that are available and quality of courses,” Mykles said. “We try to use as many measures as we can, of their recommendation and their academic preparations.”
According to Mykles, the program tends to minimize standardized tests, because they realize some students may not have the opportunity to take preparatory courses for ACT or SAT. Instead, the program looks at how well the applicant did in their coursework and what teachers say about the student’s performance.
“We don’t really have any sort of numbering system,” Mykles said. “We want to move beyond the strict academics and get to know that person better.”
Mykles said that in their review process, the program is trying to create a diverse class from all points of view.
“I think it enriches the experience of everyone by having people from different walks of life, different culture backgrounds,” Mykles said. “Our curriculum is unique because it’s based off discussions. If we’re going to have that be successful, we need students with different points of view, with different things to contribute.”
According to Mykles, students that identify as ethnically diverse have the same retention and graduation rates from CSU as non-ethnic students.
“Once a student is in the program, they succeed,” Mykles said. “My main concern is trying to encourage more students to apply to the program.”
Collegian reporter Abby Currie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @abcchic15.