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NH a Tough Sell For Minority Students

Published Thursday Jul 22, 2021

Author RICK GREEN, Granite State News Collaborative and NH Press Association

NH a Tough Sell For Minority Students

Editor’s Note: This series was co-produced by a cohort of five college students from across NH as part of a mentorship project created by The Granite State News Collaborative and its partner the NH Press Association. Additional reporting and editing was provided by John M. Bassett, Rick Green, Phil Kincade and Melanie Plenda.

(See also part 1 of this 2-part on College Diversity Goals)

Jaylin Tully will graduate from Lakes Region Community College in December and transfer to a four-year university, but she won’t be staying in NH. 

She doesn’t like the cold weather and wants to go to a place with greater diversity.

“NH is 94 percent white and I’m very obviously not,” said Tully, who is Black. “I’m hoping to get out and meet more diverse people and get different perspectives on life.”

Growing up in the Lakes Region, Tully said she found a generally supportive environment, but is now ready for a less homogeneous community and would like the opportunity to grow and interact with a wider range of people.

“It would definitely be different, but in a welcoming way,” she said.  

NH’s colleges and universities say they are trying to foster greater diversity, but they’ve had limited success. Black students at the University of NH, Plymouth State, Keene State and Dartmouth totaled 550 in 2010. In 2019, it was 570, a tiny number compared to the overall student population of 24,465 at the four schools.

Case study

Tully, a 2020 graduate of Gilford High School, is a case in point on the difficulty of recruiting diverse students to NH’s colleges and universities. She saved money by starting at community college instead of a four-year school. But even at that, she says it has not been cheap. The annual cost of community college tuition in NH for an in-state student is $7,560, the highest in the nation, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Tully saves money by living at home, but aside from housing costs, out-of-state tuition and fees would actually be less expensive in Massachusetts. Those costs at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, for example, are $6,390 for 15 academic credits.

Tully has applied to several four-year schools in Florida, where she plans to study criminal justice and sociology before going to law school. Her top pick is Florida State University in Tallahassee, where out-of-state tuition and fees of about $20,000 is comparable to that of in-state tuition and fees at the University of NH. She also figures her off-campus housing costs will be less expensive.  

“A lot of young people are not staying here, particularly because it is so expensive, but I also think diversity has its own merit,” said Tully, who works as a bartender and will use that skill to help work her way through university. 

Picking the right school  

Larissa Ruiz Baia, the president of Lakes Region Community College, said she encourages students to select a school that is the best fit for them personally. 

“Finances are an important part of that,” she said. “Also, can you see yourself at that institution? What are the things that allow them to feel the most comfortable? If you’re not comfortable, you may not be successful. It all boils down to goals. Sometimes those environments that seem most attractive are not the best to allow you to reach your goals.”

Baia was raised in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She went through her own fish-out-of-water experience when she arrived at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, for her undergraduate studies. 

“It is a very good institution and I had a great learning experience, but it was a culture shock,” said Baia, whose native language is Spanish. “I came from a high school with a graduating class of 16 people. My parents didn’t even have a high school level of education. 

“I was a minority at Brandeis, but I knew that going in. I consider myself Hispanic, and I’m also from the Carribean and I’m not Jewish at a school where a majority of the people were Jewish.”

But she did make the transition and thrived, earning a bachelor’s degree in economics and meeting her future husband. She went on to the University of Florida, where she received a master’s degree in Latin American studies and a doctorate in political science. 

Baia said there’s no easy solution for making NH schools more diverse. A more diverse state population would naturally change the composition of the student body. To that end, availability of affordable housing and an economy that attracts more new families would help.

Building diversity

If the population gradually became more diverse, it could have something of a snowball effect, allowing schools and communities to attract more diverse new students and residents.

A coordinated strategy that involves more than just higher education is needed, and could pay great dividends, Baia said. 

“Diversity always provides perspectives and approaches to thinking that we can benefit from,” she said. “People think it’s all about the ethnic food, but it’s conversations with neighbors, civic participation when people are different from you, being able to draw from the experiences of others. It can also promote tolerance.

“You become more comfortable in engaging in conversations with others, being willing to try to see things from a different point of view, not always thinking of yourself as the person with all or the best answers. It all comes from learning from people who may look and think differently from you.”

Scholarships, ambassadors

At the University of NH, Nadine Petty is the chief diversity officer and vice president for community, equity and diversity. She said the school has a new scholarship aimed at recruiting more diverse students. 

Diversity is defined broadly in the scholarship, which is funded by private donations, to include veterans, non-traditional students, ethnic and racial minorities, those with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community. Two of these scholarships, which provide $5,000 yearly for an in-state student and $10,000 for an out-of-state student, were awarded this year.

The state’s university system also has the Granite Guarantee program, which covers the cost of tuition for low-income in-state students. UNH also offers need-based awards to incoming first-year students whose presence will contribute to a diverse student body.

The school also has an ambassador program in which current students with diverse backgrounds reach out to diverse prospective students to help sell them on the school.

“They do open house panels and volunteer to have high school students shadow them for a day,” Petty said. “When families come to campus, it’s important for them to see themselves represented by someone who shares a similar background, and to be able to answer concerns or questions from that lens.” 

 “We have more diverse students applying to UNH than actually choosing to come to UNH. We have to do better as an institution to be more attractive to these students and to encourage them to actually come to the institution if they are accepted.”

Promoting ethnic diversity on faculty and staff is another way to make the school welcoming to more diverse students, she said. 

Being different

Petty is originally from Jamaica and grew up in New Jersey. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in teaching from the University of Rochester in New York. She holds a doctorate in educational leadership and organizational development from the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

Petty, who is Black, said she knows what it’s like to be different than one’s classmates.

“The things I hear students share as far as concerns are the same concerns I had as an undergrad,” she said. “Change in higher education is slow.

“In most classes I was the only Black student. That sometimes creates an uncomfortable dynamic. Faculty members would ask me to speak about the Black experience, even ask me about things like data.

“A lot of the time it was being put on the spot. I was supposed to be the expert on Blackness.”

She said UNH is taking efforts at diversity, equity and inclusion very seriously.

“Part of the reason diversity is so important is that it increases the opportunity for learning and education in general, allows for greater discourse and less pressure,” she said.

Some students from diverse backgrounds may be quite comfortable even if there are few other people of color. 

“Everyone’s comfort level is different,” Petty said. “Some students from small NH communities, grew up in and are used to majority white spaces, so this would be no different from their hometowns.”

Pictured Jaylin Tulley

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative as part of our race and equity project. For more information, visit

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