Official: Simpson ranks eighth lowest in minority enrollment among Iowa colleges

7.6 percent of Simpson’s student population is nonwhite

by Ethan Zierke, Special to The Simpsonian

INDIANOLA, Iowa — Simpson College has one of the lowest diversity rates among Iowa colleges. Only 7.6 percent of Simpson’s student population is nonwhite, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, placing Simpson at the eighth lowest of 65 colleges in Iowa.

Michael Norris, director of transfer enrollment at Simpson, said that Simpson’s lack of diversity is largely due to lack of resources.

“For many larger public schools, the brand is already there, their recruiting budgets are huge, and those are a lot of things that small schools struggle with,” Norris said.

This is not a new issue, nor one that is unique to Simpson.

Other private institutions like Allen College, Morningside College and Central College have total minority enrollment rates of 5, 6.2 and 7.5 percent, respectively.

Walter Lain, assistant dean of multicultural affairs, said the low percentages result from private colleges in Iowa focusing recruiting efforts primarily on Iowa residents.

“Our recruiting base has been the state of Iowa, and if we look at the demographics in terms of minority percentages in the state, we would find that they are relatively low, somewhere around 5-6 percent in terms of overall population,” Lain said. “It doesn’t surprise me that that’s where we are in terms of student representation.”

Lain, who graduated from Simpson in 1981, said the college touted a larger African-American population in the 1970s, but the number has declined since pushing to increase enrollment in the subsequent decade.

“There were about 800 students on campus, and close to 100 of them were black students,” Lain said. “Through the early ‘80s, we were more successful recruiting in-state white students, so that became less of a focus.”

In-state students presented the safest investment to Simpson College, allowing the school to surpass 1,000 enrolled students and setting a recruitment pattern over the next several years.

“If you’re going to increase scholarship dollars, do you do it with someone you have a better shot at, a domestic student, or do you try to hit the home run with an international student?” Norris said. “We only have so (many) scholarship dollars. We have to bring in some tuition so Simpson keeps its doors open.”

However, the need to increase diversity on campus is now more evident than ever among students and faculty, according to senior and international student Ishaya David, who said that diversity mutualism is essential to the college experience.

“It’s going to help majority students get more acquainted with other cultures and backgrounds and improve their knowledge of how the world works,” David said. “A lot of minority students have no idea what it means to grow up in a small Iowa community, and so minority students can also learn from the majority students.”

One way Simpson is taking on the challenge of increasing numbers of minority students on campus is through a series of initiatives to recruit more out-of-state students.

One of these initiatives was to create a position that would focus energy and funds on the issue of increasing multicultural students at Simpson. Rocio Hermosillo, assistant director of multicultural recruiting, has helped to increase the number of nonwhite first-year students from 40 at the beginning of the 2014-2015 academic year to 62 at the beginning of this year.

“The goal for me, too, was to work specifically on the Latino population because the Latino population is growing so fast, especially here in Iowa,” Hermosillo said. “Simpson’s niche has always been rural Iowa, but the largest group of minority students in preschool right now is Latinos.”

Another initiative has been to increase international student enrollment. The biggest challenge with this initiative is the price of a Simpson education to international students and their families.

“Because there’s no state aid, because there’s no federal aid, we can give a little bit of an academic scholarship, but not as big as our domestic students,” Norris said. “The gap between what the student’s family is able to afford and what it’s going to cost them to attend Simpson. Generally speaking, it’s not going to work.”

Norris is working to form a relationship with Des Moines-area community colleges.

Norris said community colleges are experiencing increased numbers of international enrollment due to their low cost.

“The community colleges have dumped a ton of money into the recruiting of international students,” Norris said. “They’ve done all the legwork to get them here, and the vast majority of these students have the intention of continuing their education at a four-year school.”

Despite Simpson’s recent diversity initiatives, Hermosillo believes the best way to recruit multicultural students is to have a strong multicultural presence awaiting them.

“Students aren’t going to come if there’s no one here like them, but we need those students to come so that there can be,” Hermosillo said. “It’s finding those students that are willing to be trailblazers.”