The first adjective one might use to describe Amherst College is “bucolic,’’ or maybe “prestigious.’’ Chances are “diverse’’ doesn’t even crack the top 25. But a decade ago, the school’s “top echelons made an outright decision that it would no longer be a bastion of the white, wealthy elite,’’ says Ilan Stavans, a professor of Latin American and Latino Culture there who has mentored many Latino students. Amherst has since doubled its Latino enrollment from about 6 percent to 12. In 2010, praising its commitment, Hispanic Magazine named it the number five school in the country for Latinos.
Amherst’s results are the envy of many colleges, and not just for ideological reasons. Recruiting minorities can be a survival strategy for small schools, especially those in the Northeast, which are staring down a demographic barrel: The region’s teenage population is shrinking. Most colleges depend on tuition for revenue, so keeping enrollment steady is paramount. But for the next few years, there will be an unusually shallow pool of potential students. To maintain their numbers, schools will have to recruit high-schoolers who might not otherwise attend college - and that will mean, among other things, reaching out to minority and low-income groups.