LSU’s freshman class this fall has the highest average ACT score and highest average grade point average in the university’s history.
The student body, as a whole, is also LSU’s most diverse ever — with 5.3 percent of its more than 30,000 students identifying as Hispanic, 11.2 percent as African-American, 3.5 percent as Asian and 2.2 percent as two or more races.
“I think we’re appealing to more students with more diverse backgrounds,” President and Chancellor F. King Alexander said in an interview with The Advocate at his campus office this week.
For Alexander, who came to LSU from California State University at Long Beach a year ago, the stats are important — making LSU more diverse while also striving to improve its academic standing.
When he first came to LSU, he said he had questions about outreach to Hispanics and African-Americans, in particular.
“The country is changing,” Alexander said. “The country is looking more like the (United Nations), and we want to be aligned with that.”
It presents a clear shift from the history of LSU — the state’s largest public university.
LSU traditionally has been whiter than Louisiana as a whole. The university’s first black undergraduate enrolled in 1953, but it was another decade before the first group of black students enrolled on the undergraduate level.
About 63.5 percent of the state’s population identifies as white today, based on Census figures. But — even with its record diversity this year — LSU’s student body remains about 75 percent white.
“We’re doing some real gangbusters things there, and we’re real proud of that,” said Dereck Rovaris, who became LSU’s vice provost for diversity in May. “It’s the direction we want to go, but we’re not anywhere we need to be.”
Rovaris noted that the state saw a jump in its Hispanic population during the recovery from Hurricane Katrina — creating a potential student population that, otherwise, hadn’t fully been tapped into. The Hispanic makeup of this year’s student body at LSU is 14.4 percent higher than it was last year.
“They have decided to make this area their home,” Rovaris said.
Similarly, the Asian student population jumped 13 percent compared to last year, and the black student population saw a 5.8 percent spike over the previous year.
“Students are reporting back to their friends the kinds of experiences they have here,” Rovaris said. “That helps a lot.”
The rate of students who are the first in their families to attend college also is on the rise. At 36.9 percent of the freshman class, that’s the highest portion since LSU began tracking that stat five years ago, according to the university.
The varied increases come as LSU is experiencing its third-largest student body in history. LSU’s reported fall enrollment is 30,451, marking the first time the school has topped 30,000 students since 2005.
As a flagship, LSU has gone through waves of weighing size versus exclusivity, but repeated state budget cuts have required the college to rely more heavily on revenue from tuition and fees. State contributions to the university’s budget has dropped to about 20 percent during the past few years, Alexander said.
But he said he believes LSU can balance its swelling enrollment, while focusing on its academic reputation.
“I think you can do both,” he said, pointing to larger and academically prestigious schools like the University of Michigan.
He said this year’s record ACT and GPA figures show that. The average ACT this year is 25.6 and the average GPA is 3.43.
“We’re not turning our backs on our students and our under-represented populations that need us more than ever,” Alexander said.
Rovaris and Alexander repeatedly have mentioned in recent months efforts to increase diversity among LSU’s faculty — a move they hope will help create a more diverse environment for both students and employees.
“The world in which our students will work, the world in which they will live is an increasing diverse world,” Rovaris said. “If they’re not picking up that experience, they’ll be rudely greeted.”
The university is on the path to hiring about 100 new faculty members over the coming year — many of them in high-tech, high-demand fields.
Alexander said Rovaris will meet with each of the committees filling those positions to explain ways that they can get more diverse candidate pools from which to choose.
“We want to maximize our recruitment so we can get the most diverse pool,” Alexander said.
Alexander said he thinks LSU hasn’t been effective in bringing back its diverse graduates — those who know the university best and could help add a diverse perspective to its faculty.
Rovaris said one of the things he’s working toward is advertising positions in more minority-focused publications. Previously, each department had to pay for its own job advertising, limiting the scope of their searches.
Now, the university has entered into a cooperative agreement to allow unlimited placement in selected trade publications that highlight diversity.
“For too long, they’ve not sought these candidates in an aggressive fashion,” Rovaris said. “It’s been more passive, apply if you like.”
This story was updated at 9:45 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014, to add ACT scores and average grade point average.