When Ian Penny started kindergarten, his parents enrolled him in school away from his home in Prince George’s County.

Penny, who grew up in Fort Washington but attended K-8 school in Alexandria, Virginia, said he went to school across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge because his parents thought it would increase his likelihood of attending college.

“I talk to some of my friends who did go to the PG County school system … they felt like they weren’t encouraged or had the support to get to [the University of Maryland],” the junior information systems major said.

Black student leaders at this university aimed to fix this issue last year, calling on the university to prioritize “minority enrollment by doubling the current enrollment of Black students from Prince George’s County and DC by 2025.”

In the year since the demand, there have been minimal changes in Black student enrollment from Prince George’s County. University officials say enrollment changes take time and stressed the importance of existing programs that recruit Prince George’s County students. But some students maintain that more substantive changes are necessary.

Despite being located in Prince George’s County, this university enrolls fewer students from Prince George’s County than Howard and Montgomery counties.

[Amid fierce dissent from residents, Prince George’s County Council backs redistricting map]

Black freshmen enrollment from Prince George’s County increased by less than two percentage points between fall 2020 and fall 2021, according to university data. There were two more Black freshmen from Prince George’s County this year than last.

Shannon Gundy, this university’s undergraduate admissions director, said “enrollment increases are really never a giant leap forward.” Gundy emphasized the importance of this university building relationships with county partners.

“I would love to be able to say the numbers have turned around completely, and every student who is graduating from Prince George’s County is considering the University of Maryland,” Gundy said. “But the fruits of our labor are being born right now, so we’re definitely making inroads.”

The admissions office does not set specific numerical admissions targets, Gundy said.

“Whether we’re going to be able to make huge leaps and strides, I don’t know,” Gundy said. “We are working really hard.”

Part of the university’s efforts include building relationships with both community organizations and local high schools, Gundy said. Many county students rely heavily on community organizations for help navigating their college application processes.

Senior criminology and criminal justice major Ariana Green feels this university’s administration has been complacent with its efforts to increase Black enrollment. This university also competes with multiple historically Black colleges and universities for Prince George’s County high schoolers, Green added.

But reasons why Black students attend HBCUs instead of this university are deeper than admissions outreach, Green said. Many Black students at this university don’t feel as comfortable here as they would at an HBCU, Green said.

“When you go to an HBCU, you’re just able to be comfortable in your Blackness,” Green said. “A lot of Black people – they don’t feel comfortable here.”

The admissions office is committed to countering “misinformation” about this university that is often present in Prince George’s County schools, Gundy said.

The Maryland Ascent Program and College Access Conference provide college application help for high schoolers, Gundy said. Maryland Ascent is for first-generation college students from Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Prince George’s County.

The university also hosts the EDGE program, where admitted students stay overnight. The program is not exclusive to Prince George’s County, but many local students use the weekend as an opportunity to get to know the campus, Gundy said.

Junior finance major Shayne Richmond said the EDGE program helped him decide whether to attend this university. But the program would impact enrollment more if it were open to more high schoolers, not just those accepted to this university, Richmond said.

Richmond, who went to K-8 school in Prince George’s County before transferring to a private high school in Virginia, felt fortunate his education outside of the county led him to this university.

“But I looked around once I got here, and a lot of the students that I was around when I was in kindergarten through eighth grade weren’t here,” Richmond said. “I’ve started to ask myself the question: Where are they all?”

[College Park City Council awards $26K in educational grants to six local schools]

The university also offers Maryland Incentive Awards to students in counties across the state, including Prince George’s. The program targets students who overcome adversity in their journey to college.

Green said correspondence about the Maryland Incentive Awards program was the only outreach she received from her counselors when applying from Oxon Hill High School.

Many Black students at this university are now playing roles in building those inroads with local high schools, Green said. This outreach will help high school students get a sense of the Black community at this university before they decide to apply, Green said.

“There is a community here for Black students,” Green said. “But there’s still a lot of work.”