U of Vermont targets inner-city recruits

The University of Vermont is working with a New York high school to give inner-city students a shot at going to college while at the same time boosting UVM's minority enrollment.

University officials are helping freshmen and sophomores at the 3,000-student Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx. The school is unimaginable to most Vermonters in its scale, diversity, and the chasm between its best and its worst.

According to the city Board of Education, nearly 90 percent of Christopher Columbus students come from families poor enough to qualify for free lunches. Only 35 percent of those who enter the school as freshmen graduate in four years.

Columbus wants more of its students to aim for higher education; UVM needs more students like these to enrich its overwhelmingly white, middle-class campus.

The project arose out of a chance meeting at an educational conference last year between Columbus Principal Gerald Garfin and UVM Admissions Director Don Honeman. They agreed UVM will work to demystify college for the high school's youngest students and their families and show them it is academically and financially achievable.

Another encounter, between Mr. Honeman and 1994 UVM graduate Alex Wilcox, provided a crucial ingredient that separates this program from similar ones. Mr. Wilcox, an executive at JetBlue Airways, persuaded JetBlue to donate 180 round-trip tickets between New York and Burlington. The tickets send UVM faculty, students, and admissions officers on frequent visits to Columbus and bring Columbus students to Burlington for an introduction to college life.

The partnership has paid off. Although UVM didn't recruit Columbus seniors this year, 32 applied anyway. Twenty-two were accepted. UVM hopes eight to 10 will enroll - a figure that could boost its freshman minority enrollment by 10 percent in a single year.

"We're doing this as much for our own kids as for the Bronx students," Honeman said. "Diversity matters. We need a student population that reflects the world our students are going to live in. Without that engagement, we're not offering a full academic experience."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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