Monday, March 09, 2009

Admitting a Problem?

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education has released the results of its annual survey measuring Black enrollment in elite colleges and universities. I mostly looked at the Liberal Arts College data, primarily because I was curious how Carleton is doing. The answer is, we're getting better, but are still mid-bottom of the pack with a 5.9% Black incoming freshman class for 08-09. I suspect a lot of that has to do with the fact that we're located in God Forgot Me, Minnesota.* But that excuse only gets you so far: Williams is ranked second amongst LACs (10.4%) even though its in Even More Isolated Than Northfield, Massachusetts.

But that's not what caught my eye. The article, among other things, lets you compare the acceptance rates for Black applicants versus the pool at large. The plurality of schools had higher acceptance rates for Black students: Amherst, Williams, Swarthmore, Wellesley, Haverford, Pomona, Bowdoin, Wesleyan, Bates, Grinnell, Carleton, Claremont McKenna, Middlebury, and Colby.

At several schools, the proportions were more or less the same (within 3 percentage points): Trinity, Davidson, Oberlin, Colgate, Hamilton, Washington & Lee, and Harvey Mudd.

But quite a few schools were less likely to admit Black applicants than the average student: Bryn Mawr, Smith, Lafayette, Barnard, Macalester, and Bucknell. In some cases, the gap was extremely stark: 10 points at Bucknell and Smith, over 15 at Bryn Mawr. Worthy of note: three of these schools (Bryn Mawr, Smith, and Barnard) are all-women's colleges (three of the four on the list). I'm not sure what that means, but it sticks out.

* I learned to love and cherish Northfield in my time at Carleton, but even I'll tell you that it was not exactly what I envisioned when I thought about the type of town I wanted to spend four years in.


Anonymous said...

I was interested to see how much the yield numbers varied and how they didn't seem to correlate very strongly with the percentage of the student body that is black.

My mother was a professor and now is in administration at a Northeastern university with very low minority enrollment of any sort. The university admits a lot of black students, but very few end up deciding to go there. My mother's impression of the situation is that the campus is not perceived as being very friendly to people who aren't of a certain type and the black students who are admitted often have a lot of options, so they end up going elsewhere. There has been a lot of soul-searching over this, but not a lot of concrete action to make the university more appealing (in part because I think folks are at a loss as to how to change the culture there).

My alma mater (Northwestern) seems to have this problem as well, accepting blacks at a higher rate, but getting far fewer enrollments and ending up with a student body that is 4.5 percent black (which I think is actually better than when I went there, but I'm not sure).

Anyway, I bring it up just to say that admitting black students certainly is the necessary first step, but if a university really values a diverse student body, it needs to do more than that.

Anonymous said...

Northfield may be less remote than Williams, but you might be onto something about coast vs. fly-over zone.

Though I do agree that admitting students is far from the end of the solution. Working at a TFA school has opened my eyes to how inadequately some students are prepared. While my top students are plenty smart and dedicated, they're still YEARS behind where I was when I entered Carleton. And I had to play catch-up. The fact that these schools are higher minority just indicates that we have that much more work to do.