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The Ivy Coach Daily

April 24, 2021

Verifying If Admitted Student Pools at Elite Universities Are More Diverse for Class of 2025

America’s elite colleges are touting more diverse pools of admitted students than ever before (photo credit: Chensiyuan).

Did America’s elite universities admit a higher percentage of underrepresented minority applicants this year? According to a piece in The New York Times by Anemona Hartocollis entitled “After a Year of Turmoil, Elite Universities Welcome More Diverse Freshman Classes,” the answer is a definitive yes. As the esteemed education reporter writes, “Whether college admissions have changed for the long haul remains unclear. But early data suggests that many elite universities have admitted a higher proportion of traditionally underrepresented students this year — Black, Hispanic and those who were from lower-income communities or were the first generation in their families to go to college, or some combination — than ever before.”

We Forecasted Admitted Students Would Be More Diverse Than in Years Past

It’s a statement that would be consistent with our projections for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle at elite universities. As our readers may remember, we forecasted that the students who would benefit — and rightly so — from “test-optional” admissions policies would be first-generation college students, underrepresented minorities, and low-income students. All have long been coveted groups in the eyes of admissions officers at elite universities. Students who are not members of one of these coveted groups, we also argued, would find themselves at a significant disadvantage for not submitting test scores to “test-optional” schools — no matter how loudly or how vociferous admissions officers argued to the contrary from atop their soapboxes. But allow us to fact check Ms. Hartocollis’ conclusion. Are the numbers up for underrepresented minorities and first-generation college students at America’s elite universities? Let’s check in at a couple of elite universities to see if we too discern a pattern.

Trusting, But Verifying the Numbers of Diverse Admitted Students

At Harvard University, as The Harvard Gazette reports in a piece entitled “1,968 total accepted to the Class of 2025 as regular-decision letters go out,” “The Class of 2025 reflects the increasing diversity of the College’s applicants, with 18 percent identifying as African American/Black, 27.2 percent as Asian American, 13.3 percent as Latinx, 1.2 percent as Native American, and 0.6 percent as Native Hawaiian.” For the Class of 2024, as Benjamin L. Fu and Dohyun Kim reported for The Harvard Crimson in a piece entitled “81 Percent of Class of 2024 Admits Accept Spots in the College Amid Pandemic Uncertainty,” “Asian Americans represent 24.6 percent of the incoming class, a slight decrease from a record-high 25.6 percent for the Class of 2023. African Americans comprise 13.9 percent of the class, an increase from 13.1 last year, and the proportion of Latinx students remained level at 11.8 percent. Native Americans and Native Hawaiians make up 2 percent of the class, down slightly from 2.2 percent last year.” So, yes, with the exception of Native Americans and Native Hawaiians, underrepresented students are better represented at Harvard among Class of 2025 admits than they were among its Class of 2024 admits. At Princeton University, for the Class of 2025, 22% of admitted students will be the first in their immediate families to attend college. This same statistic stood at 17% for the cohort of admitted students to Princeton’s Class of 2024. At the University of Pennsylvania, 15% of admits to the Class of 2025 identify as first-generation college students, the same figure as for the Class of 2024. At Brown University, 17% of admits to the Class of 2025 will be the first in their immediate families to attend college, the same percentage as for the Class of 2024.

Why It’s Difficult to Verify These Conclusions

We’d cherrypick more data from elite universities but, frankly, it’s tough because some schools, like Cornell University, don’t release data on their admitted students. Instead, they ultimately release data on their incoming class, a dataset that includes only the matriculants. Or some universities lump all students of color into one all-encompassing statistic (e.g., 48% of the class are students of color). Yet this statistic includes groups that are overrepresented in elite college admissions as well, including Asian American applicants. So comparing the year-over-year breakdown of underrepresented minority students can be tough. Or in some cases, like in Dartmouth College’s case, the admissions office just neglects to report the percentage of admitted students who will be the first in their immediate families to attend college as they did for the Class of 2024 — either by mistake or because the number didn’t compare favorably to prior years. This year, the percentage stood at 17%, which we can report since it was released to the public. For Dartmouth’s Class of 2024, the percentage of first-generation admits to the Class of 2024 will likely forever remain a mystery much like the disappearance of the settlers at Roanoke Colony, though we do know that 15% of enrollees to the Class of 2024 were first-generation college students.

A Call for America’s Elite Universities to Be More Transparent in Their Release of Data Sets

So the long answer is the pools of admitted students to the Class of 2025 at America’s elite universities are likely slightly more diverse, including more underrepresented minority students and first-generation college students, but everyone — including the best of reporters — are in some ways taking admissions officers at their word on this topic. It’s likely why Ms. Hartocollis only cites such data for Harvard, New York University, and the University of Southern California, instead relying mostly on anecdotal stories and the word of admissions leaders, the same admissions leaders who tell us that students with no test scores are at no disadvantage in elite college admissions. The reason we cherrypicked so few schools in this post is because at so many of the universities we tried to also compare, a key data point was either missing or just too vague. And so we issue a call today for America’s elite universities to be more transparent with their data releases. After all, if America’s elite universities are so proud of admitting more socioeconomically and racially diverse classes — as they have every right to be — they should have no problem releasing these figures in their entirety each and every year in the interest of transparency. We leave our readers with the words of the Dean of Admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as reported by Ms. Hartocollis: “Stu Schmill, dean of admissions at M.I.T., said the school did not release the breakdown of the admitted class because it was not the final enrolling class. ‘But I can tell you that there is a higher percentage of students of color this year than last,’ he said.” Show don’t tell, Dean Schmill. You work at MIT. Numbers should be a strong suit.

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