Efforts are underway at the University of Central Arkansas to increase the number of students from minority backgrounds, officials said. On Sunday, the university’s largest outreach event — the Amigo Cup Soccer Challenge — kicks off at 9 a.m..

"This is our way of getting word out as what UCA is about and how it can benefit Latinos," said Manny Sepulveda, tournament coordinator. "The message is: ‘You’re welcome.’"

But that message isn’t limited to the fastest-growing minority group currently attending UCA. President Tom Courtway said plans are underway at UCA to recruit and retain more minority students, including Asian and black students.

"We’re making a renewed effort this year to reach out to underrepresented constituencies," Courtway said.

Nearly 70 percent of the student body at UCA in fall 2011 were white — a rate that hasn’t changed much since 2009, according to a UCA breakdown of enrollment by classification and race. In 2010, the Higher Learning Commission noted UCA needed more diversity, Courtway said.

Students at UCA need to be exposed to different cultures and different ways of thinking to be successful in today’s world, said Robert Parrent, vice president for enrollment management.

"There are parts of Arkansas without diversity, but at the University of Central Arkansas we see (diversity) as very positive in helping our students be successful in life," Parrent said.

A newly formed faculty diversity committee met recently to organize and begin looking at programing and outreach activities that could draw and retain more minority students. A report is expected to be turned in to administrators by the end of January, Courtway said.

The Amigo Cup, which began in 2010, is specifically geared to attract the school’s largest and fastest growing minority segment — Hispanics. In fall 2010, 279 Hispanic students had enrolled at UCA. From fall 2011 to fall 2012, the Hispanic enrollment numbers jumped by 7.3 percent, from 303 to 325. Over the past five years, that number has increased 68 percent, according to UCA numbers.

Officials say Hispanic communities are growing. From 2000 to 2010, the Hispanic or Latino population grew 114 percent and makes up 6.4 percent of the total population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Last year’s Amigo tournament drew about 800 people over a two-day event, said Venita Jenkins, spokeswoman. Officials expect to see a heavy turnout today even though the tournament will be one-day only, they said.

The event includes live broadcasts, said Gary Roberts, dean of students and chairman of the Amigo Cup Soccer Challenge Committee. Nine teams, including three women teams, will play in the tournament at the Bill Stephens Track and Soccer Complex. There will also be food vendors and Latino music, UCA officials said.

All together, UCA spent about $13,500, plus $2,500 from the Conway Advertising and Promotion Commission, on Amigo Cup this year. Courtway plans an interview during the tournament with a TV station out of Rogers and officials say they are beefing up ads in Spanish-speaking media. Courtway said UCA’s initiative to increase the number of minority students enrolling at UCA may mean more events like Amigo Cup in the next few years.

Just getting families to see UCA as a place to send their children is important for UCA, Roberts said. That effort translates to future students at the university, Sepulveda said.

"What we want to look at is the cream of the crop coming out of Arkansas (high) schools," Sepulveda said. "No other university is making this kind of effort to reach them."

CLARIFICATION: The Hispanic population at UCA is the fastest-growing minority group. Black students are about 15 percent of the student body and are the largest minority group. http://uca.edu/ir/files/2011/11/Factbook-2011-7.pdf