Every one of America’s elite universities espouses diversity. In its mission statement, Yale University writes, “Yale educates aspiring leaders worldwide who serve all sectors of society. We carry out this mission through the free exchange of ideas in an ethical, interdependent, and diverse community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni.” Columbia University writes, “It seeks to attract a diverse and international faculty and student body, to support research and teaching on global issues, and to create academic relationships with many countries and regions.” Harvard University writes, “Through a diverse living environment, where students live with people who are studying different topics, who come from different walks of life and have evolving identities, intellectual transformation is deepened and conditions for social transformation are created.” You get the idea. So why do our nation’s elite universities — universities which drop the word diversity in sentences as often as they can — enroll so few African American students?
Elite Colleges Can and Must Do More to Increase African American Enrollment
There are lots of reasons. Admissions officers at these institutions should better prioritize cultivating relationships with school counselors and administrators in underserved communities. Just as these folks know Phillips Exeter Academy school counselors on a first name basis, they should know Compton High School counselors on a first name basis. Admissions officers at these schools should advocate admissions policies that forbid the submission of SAT and ACT scores. Since these exams are highly coachable, they invariably disadvantage low-income students — many of whom also happen to be underrepresented minorities. Test-optional policies simply don’t go far enough.
Black and African American Enrollment Figures Are Currently Combined
But these are arguments our readers have heard before not only on the pages of this college admissions blog but in just about any article on parity in the admissions process. Today, we’d like to shine a lantern on a MarketWatch editorial entitled “The harsh truth about black enrollment at America’s elite colleges” written by Howard Gold. The piece focuses on how Ivy League and other elite institutions essentially talk a good game but the number of enrolled African American students at these schools does not reflect their very public commitment to true diversity. As he writes, “The black students that elite colleges do admit increasingly come from either mixed-race backgrounds or immigrant families from Africa or the Caribbean. This was noted as far back as 2003 by prominent African-American scholars Lani Guinier and Henry Louis Gates Jr. Only between 9% and 13% of black American 18- and 19-year-olds are immigrants or come from immigrant families. But one long-term study cited by Tough shows that at ‘highly selective private colleges,…students from black immigrant families plus students with one black and nonblack parent [rose] from about 40 percent of black students in the 1980s…to about 60 percent in the late 1990s.'”
We Support Separating These Figures to Increase Representation
So what can these elite institutions do to increase the enrollment of African American students on their campuses? That’s easy. When colleges release breakdowns of their incoming classes based on ethnicity, we would encourage schools to stop combining “Black/African American” data into one all-encompassing figure. In fact, we’d encourage the Common Application to end the slash and separate the two groups as well. Instead, there can be two figures: one figure that includes applicants who are Black but not of American descent and another figure that includes the descendants of the most evil institution this country has ever known, American slavery. And admissions officers at these institutions should endeavor to increase both figures in the years to come to demonstrate their commitment to the very diversity they espouse.
These Institutions Are Duty-Bound to Increase Both Figures
For loyal readers of our college admissions blog, you may remember we previously expressed that further separating applicants into more tightly defined categories based on their ethnicity could spur divisiveness on college campuses. While we have always championed increasing African American and Black representation at America’s elite universities and while we have made a point over the years of calling out schools that only pay lip service to diversity, we worried that such a move would pit students against one another. We worried that simply further breaking down the ethnic categories on college applications wouldn’t foster real change. But you know what? We were wrong. Sometimes the simplest solutions actually are the best solutions. As we have detailed extensively over the years, many of our nation’s elite universities were despicably built on the backs of slave labor and if separating Black students applying from South Africa from African American students applying from Tennessee encourages these schools to admit more students from both categories and embarrasses these schools for publishing low figures in either category, then we’re all for it.
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