The Ivy Coach Daily

April 27, 2024

The Jewish Student Population in the Ivy League Continues to Decline

Jewish student enrollment across the Ivy League has been declining in recent years (photo credit: Bryan Y.W. Shin).

Previously Published on October 15, 2018:

This week marks one of the darkest weeks in the centuries-long history of the Ivy League. It’s been just a couple of months since the presidents of Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania were forced to tender their resignations for failing to deem calls by students for the genocide of Jews a violation of their policies. Yet antisemitism is alive and well in the Ivy League.

Student-protesters at Columbia University and Yale University — many shouting hateful antisemitic rhetoric from behind masks — have set up unlawful encampments to voice their displeasure with the Israeli response to the brutal October 7, 2023 Hamas terrorist attack against the Jewish nation. These encampments and protests at the center of campuses have disrupted campus life and jeopardized the safety of Jewish students.

At Columbia, for instance, the administration has shamefully done nearly nothing to protect their Jewish students. On April 20, 2024, Columbia President Minouche Shafik directed the New York Police Department to arrest the student-protesters for trespassing and disband the unlawful encampment. But the encampment popped up the subsequent day across the lawn, filled with protesters spewing antisemitic rhetoric (with some even calling for physical violence against Jewish students as caught on video).

Four days later, the only action the Columbia administration seems to have taken has been to switch to a hybrid class model for the remainder of the semester (so students fearful of their safety could attend classes virtually) and deactivate key card access to the main campus for its most vocal Jewish professor. The Columbia administration’s response has been nothing short of despicable and shameful. It has marked the lowest point in the Ivy League school’s history. The harm of President Minouche’s actions and inaction will reverberate for many years to come, causing lasting institutional harm.

So, what will come of the rising antisemitism on Ivy League campuses and the failure of these administrators to take appropriate action to protect their Jewish students and the rule of law? Will the Jewish population fall at the Ivies?

Jewish Population at Ivy League Schools Declining

As Shira Telushkin wrote in a piece on declining Jewish enrollment a few years back for Tablet, “In 2010, Penn was just under 20 percent Jewish, according to data collected by the Steinhardt Social Research Institute. By 2016, only 13 percent of the campus identified as Jewish by religion, a decrease of over 600 Jewish students. (When including students who claimed only ethnic or cultural affiliation, those numbers jump three percentage points.)”

Telushkin continued, “And Penn is far from the only Ivy League campus to note a decline. To take another example, throughout the 2000s, about 20 percent of incoming freshmen at Yale University identified as Jewish, according to data collected by the Yale University Chaplain’s Office. In the 2010s, that number was closer to 16 percent. For the past three years, The Harvard Crimson has reported that about 10 percent of incoming first-year students identified as Jewish, according to their own survey. For the incoming Harvard class of 2020, that number has dropped to 6 percent.”

Percentage of Jewish Students at the Ivy League Schools in 2023

Fast forward to 2023, and the size of the undergraduate student bodies at some Ivy League schools has declined even further while some have rebounded ever so slightly.

According to data kept by Hillel (and keeping in mind that many of the Ivy League schools don’t ask students to identify their faith on their applications, so these are estimates), among the eight Ivy League schools, over just the last two years alone, the decline is most noticeable at Cornell and Princeton.

We’re singling out just these two most recent years because it will be interesting to see the 2024 data in comparison — data on the heels of the Hamas terrorist attack, the war in Gaza, and rising antisemitism across Ivy League campuses. 

Ivy League InstitutionJewish Percentage of Undergraduate Student Body (2023)Jewish Percentage of Undergraduate Student Body (2022)Total Number of Jewish Undergraduate Students (2023)Total Number of Jewish Undergraduate Students (2022)Total Number of Undergraduate Students (2023)Total Number of Undergraduate Students (2022)
Brown University23.9%23.86%1,7001,7007,1257,125
Columbia University22.5%22.33%1,5001,5006,6886,716
Cornell University15.6%21.21%2,5002,50010,16311,785
Dartmouth College8.8%8.82%4004004,5334,533
Harvard University8.8%9.87%7007007,1787,095
University of Pennsylvania16.4%17.57%1,6001,7509,7609,962
Princeton University9.6%11.46%5006005,2365,236
Yale University12.1%12.24%8008006,6396,535

Jewish Students Are Rightly Upset and Frightened, But They Will Never Stop Pursuing the Best Educations

Antisemitism is nothing new in the Ivy League. In the early twentieth century, Harvard’s President A. Lawrence Lowell openly used quotas to cap the number of Jewish students at the Ivy League institution. Lowell’s antisemitism, in many ways, birthed the practice of legacy admission.

But never before has antisemitism across the Ivy League been so visible — particularly at Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, UPenn, and Yale (Dartmouth has been an exception, lighting the way forward for other universities). But with news coverage focused squarely on these protests and with Jewish high school students rightly fearful for their safety on certain Ivy League campuses, will it lead to significant declines in Jewish representation next year?

We think not. Contrary to the words of a college counselor whose salacious and often misleading quotes are regularly printed in The New York Post, we do not anticipate Jewish students to eschew the likes of Harvard and Yale for Southern Methodist University.

Perhaps it takes a Jewish person to share something that non-Jews may never understand about our people. We will always seek out the very best education in the world. After all, if history is any guide, people — nations even — can take our businesses, possessions, even our lives, but they can never take our educations.

It’s why we expect Jewish students never to stop pursuing the finest education in America — and that education is at Ivy League schools and their peer institutions. It doesn’t mean schools like Columbia won’t experience fleeting blips for their despicable actions and inaction over these weeks. Still, we at Ivy Coach do not foresee a dramatic drop in Jewish enrollment in the coming years.

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