Otterbein University's freshman class for the fall of 2018 contains over 23 percent of students of color. This is a 3 percent increase in diversity from last year's freshman class, and an 11 percent increase from the freshman class of 2012.

According to the university website, this class is estimated to be the most diverse in university history. 

The university credits campus outreach programs for contributing to this steady increase. Created in 2014, the Urban Districts Initiative is one of these programs. 

According to Vice President for Enrollment Management Jefferson Blackburn-Smith, the initiative creates partnerships with the Columbus, Westerville, Whitehall and South-Western school districts.

          

“We want students to come and at least explore and find out whether or not we would be a good fit for them,” said Blackburn-Smith. “We know that as a private school our sticker price scares lots of people off, so we want them to know that we're committed to be as affordable as we can be."

Before the initiative was created, only six students from Columbus City Schools were enrolled at Otterbein, with a retention rate of only 62 percent. After the initiative was created, enrollment from these schools increased to 28 students, with a 90 percent retention rate.

Lydie Dorelien, an alumna of Columbus City Schools, is the coordinator of the Urban Districts Initiative. She said it’s important to build a relationship with the students she recruits.

          

"I try to be visible to let students know that I'm there for them and really build that trust,” said Dorelien. 

Dorelien regularly schedules lunch visits with her students, and continues to check in with them after they arrive on campus.

Other Otterbein students are embracing the new changes, citing the university's diversity as a highlight.

Vanessa Smith, a freshman art major, said it's a good thing her class is the most diverse to ever attend Otterbein. Smith said she chose Otterbein because “people are more open-minded."

For the future, Blackburn-Smith said the university admissions is also working on attracting out-of-state students, international students and balancing the gender ratio on campus.