Last Thursday (4/6), Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Milyon Trulove hosted a session discussing the upcoming Supreme Court decision regarding race-based admission — otherwise known as affirmative action — and how Reed plans to face the decision. Additionally, Trulove discussed current Reed enrollment trends, as well as current recruitment methods the college employs.
According to Trulove, Reed College has a healthy rate of inquiries — students who reach out to Reed after being contacted by the college. Reed employs a variety of methods to increase the student applicant pool early, targeting students in their sophomore and junior years of high school. Reed hosts a large number of virtual events — including programming that started during the pandemic, but has continued on since. The virtual events allow students to “learn about our college from [their] living room,” said Trulove. Reed’s Youtube channel hosts an assortment of videos, such as Roaming Reedies — which shows off the Portland area — Reedie Room Tours, and ResLife hall live events.
In about 3 years, colleges across the country, including Reed, will experience the beginning of a “demographic cliff,” wherein there will be less students in high school, and therefore fewer students applying to college, all likely due to lower birth rates during the Great Recession 15 years ago. In the audience, Vice President for Student Life Karnell McConnell-Black mentioned that “certain demographics may not see [a drop],” but the enrollment cliff will still be an issue for the majority.
Reed’s admission process, according to Trulove, is not to “sell” any prospective students on Reed. Instead, said Trulove, “What we believe philosophically is that we want to give students a choice.” The college hosts a variety of programs and workshops designed to meet students wherever they are in the application process. The programs include lessons on how to navigate selective college admissions, essay writing workshops, and other courses designed to help students pick a college that fits them, rather than to specifically pick Reed. The counselors at Reed understand that they are not typically the first in line to influence students to figure out which college they want to attend — parents, teachers, and alumni all place in front of them. Rather, said Trulove, “My job isn’t to sell anybody,” it is to be “really clear about what our community offers,” and to allow students to take advantage of it.
The Reed counselors understand that mail, both physical and electronic, is still very important to admissions. On average, it takes “17 touches for the student to do something,” said Trulove, meaning it takes about 17 pieces of correspondence with a student in order to generate solid interest in a college. The mail that Reed sends out to prospective students highlights current Reedies, with notes about their own majors and programs written in Reedie’s own handwriting. The postcards Reed sends out also include information about the Honor Principle, student life, financial aid, and more.
Reed College has a few methods already in place for increasing diversity within the school, that do not necessarily rely on affirmative action. When reaching out to students in high school, Reed works to create a diverse pool of students. “If the interested group is diverse,” said Trulove, “then the applicants are more diverse.” Reed is also completely test-blind, and no longer takes the SAT or ACT into account in the evaluation process. According to Trulove, the biggest correlation to success in college is a student’s performance in math and science classes. The college acknowledges, however, that some students may not have access to higher-level math and science classes, so Reed takes those classes into account relative to the highest level of classes offered at the student’s school.
With regard to the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on race-based admission, Trulove recounted some of the previous affirmative action cases. In Fisher v. the University of Texas, the Supreme Court upheld affirmative action, though Justice Kennedy added that colleges must first demonstrate that alternative race-neutral methods, such as factoring in socioeconomic status or zip codes in lieu of race, would not achieve diversity at the same levels as using race. Reed currently partners with organizations such as IDEA Charter Schools, Latino Network, Black United Fund, Portland Public Schools, and more, in order to boost their outreach to underrepresented communities. Even with these programs in place, however, if the Supreme Court rules against affirmative action, “It is possible our campus will look less diverse than it has in the last eight years,” said Trulove.
When asked about the possible repercussions of continuing to factor in race for admission in light of a negative Supreme Court decision, Trulove stated that many students rely on federal funding for financial aid, and many members of the college also rely on federal research dollars. Continuing to use race in the case of a negative decision would put federal funding for the college at risk. Regardless of the Supreme Court’s actual decision, Reed will continue to focus on growing diversity early in the prospective student pool — Trulove is “optimistic,” because the strategy has been reportedly successful thus far.