Otterbein University Enrolls Most Diverse Class in History, Exemplifying Mission of Inclusivity

Posted Oct 13, 2020

This fall, Otterbein welcomed the first-year students of the Class of 2024, which has the distinction of being the most diverse in the university’s 173-year history. The 133 students of color and of non-Caucasian ethnicity make up nearly 27% of the class — a 98.5% increase from the 67 ethnically diverse students entering class in 2012, when current Vice President for Enrollment Management Jefferson Blackburn-Smith came to Otterbein. He says the growth is about community and not numbers. 

“It’s about the environment. We want this to be a home for students, not just a place they go to school. Otterbein is, and always has been, a college of opportunity. We want to meet students and families where they are, see them as a person first, and then help support their journey to where they want to be,” said Blackburn-Smith. 

Targeted admission campaigns and scholarship initiatives are key drivers in how Otterbein has been increasing student diversity year after year. Efforts began in Columbus City Schools in 2013, then expanded to other central Ohio Urban districts in 2015 and became the Opportunity Scholarship for Ohio residents earning less than $60,000 per year in 2018. 

With the expansion, Otterbein could take its commitment to affordability statewide, covering the full cost of tuition beyond state and federal aid up to the student’s full financial need as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. 

“We became increasingly more strategic in our outreach and the messages we were sending out in materials than when I first started,” Blackburn-Smith said. “We made the conscious effort to openly talk about issues facing society and addressing questions out there so we could speak to as many different types of students as possible.” 

The Office of Social Justice and Activism (OSJA) plays a key role campus programming addressing those issues and providing community and support once students are on campus. 

“When we think of Otterbein University, we must think of including everyone in our pursuit of excellence,” said James Prysock, OSJA director. “Once students commit to attending Otterbein, they are invited to our Nurturing Educational Success & Transitions (NEST) program. NEST is a pre-orientation program that aims to ease the transition of first-year students that identify as first-generation, transfer and/or students of color. The program helps each new student connect with their peers, a mentor and, ultimately, the institution as a whole.” 

Senior Frandie Francique came to Otterbein in 2017 as a graduate of Columbus Alternative High School. From when she started as a timid first-year student to being elected president of Otterbein Student Government (OUSG) at the end of her junior year, she received support from faculty, staff and fellow students who helped mentor her into the person she is today. 

“As a female student of color, I was able to find comfort with people who looked like me through the NEST program and the African American Student Union. In addition to that, I was supported academically through my professors and the Academic Support Center. I have been able to develop as a leader through the organizations I’ve committed to since my first year. I’m appreciative that I have found friends from all different walks of life on campus,” Francique said. 

The University also works to create a safe, supportive community for Dreamers, undocumented students and individuals from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. This diverse community not only reflects the reality of the world, but also allows students to learn from people of other backgrounds, which will contribute to their personal and professional success in the future.  

“Otterbein is committed to developing the leaders of tomorrow, and that includes various identities and backgrounds. My position as OUSG President can serve as an opportunity to encourage others who may not always see themselves represented in positions of power,” Francique said. “It’s one thing for students to see themselves reflected in their fellow peers, but they should also be reflected in all the things that impact the University.” 

Whether it is the 27% of students of color, 10% Latinx, 11% out of state or the 33% Pell Eligible students that make up the class of 2024, Otterbein University continues to be engaged in the conversations that lead to a more equitable society. 

“Engaging students from all backgrounds is essential to make the University welcoming and a home for students,” said Blackburn-Smith. “We want you to come shape the university dialogue and make this place your own.”