Columbia University Covets Harlem Students

Columbia can and must do more for high schoolers from Harlem’s public schools (photo credit: Andrew Chen).

Would it surprise our readers to know that Dartmouth College has a great relationship with Hanover High School, regularly admitting students from the closest high school to the Hanover, New Hampshire-based college? Or that the school has great relationships with high schools across not only the Upper Valley but the entire state of New Hampshire? Would it surprise our readers to know that the University of Pennsylvania has a great relationship with many Philadelphia-based high schools? Or that Duke University loves its Durham residents? If any of this does surprise you, it means you don’t have a full understanding of how important it is for these schools to maintain outstanding town-gown relations. In the case of Duke, as an example, the town-gown relations over the years have been, well, complicated (think back to 2006 during the Duke rape case in which three Duke lacrosse players were falsely charged of raping a local young woman). It wasn’t exactly the high point in Duke-Durham relations.

Columbia Admits Harlem Residents Who Attend Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Columbia Secondary

The fact is every highly selective college in America cares about its surrounding community. Heck, caring about their surrounding community is indeed in their own self-interest. And Columbia University is no exception to this rule; the school covets Harlem residents. But it seems the school is struggling — mightily we might add — with admitting the very students who attend the public high schools a stone’s throw away. Rather, the school is admitting local students who attend specialized high schools in New York City like Stuyvesant High School, The Bronx High School of Science, and Columbia Secondary School. While all three schools are public schools, they are all selective. So what’s the problem, you ask?

But Columbia Is Failing to Admit Many Students from Harlem’s Public Schools

As Sofia Partida writes in a piece for The Columbia Spectator entitled “Columbia wants more Harlem students, but 95 percent of its local scholars program attended N.Y.’s selective high schools,” “The Thompson-Muñoz Scholars program embodies Columbia’s commitment to invest in first-generation and low-income students from local communities. Between 2016 to 2019, only five percent of the program’s cohort was accepted into the Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences from open-admission public schools, according to public data. Despite dozens of informational visits by the University to under-resourced public schools, Columbia Secondary School, Stuyvesant High School, and the Bronx High School of Science were the only schools to send students to the program all three years, the data also reveals. While thousands battle for only thirty new spots for CSS high school, Bronx Science and Stuyvesant have come under fire for their selectivity which has yielded a 4 and 9 percent Black and Latinx population, respectively. On average, 83 percent of Harlem and the Bronx are Black and Latinx.”

Columbia Can and Must Do More for Harlem’s Public Schoolers

And therein lies the rub. For a university that covets underrepresented minorities, first-generation college students, and low-income students (many Harlem high schoolers can check off all three of these designations), Columbia’s Thompson-Muñoz Scholars program can — and must — do better at pushing through African American and Latinx students from Harlem’s public high schools. While program administrators might be trying, their efforts over the last few years have fallen short and so it’s time for change. We hereby issue a call for Columbia University to admit many more students from Harlem’s public schools this Regular Decision cycle. Making the effort just isn’t enough — it’s time to boost these numbers!


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