Black students have less access to the most selective public colleges in the United States than 20 years ago, according to a report published Tuesday by the Education Trust. The report highlights that colleges will need to make major changes to meet growing calls for more inclusive campuses.
The Education Trust, a nonprofit research organization, assigned a letter grade to each of the 101 public colleges, based on the share of their black or Latino students in 2017, compared to the percentage of 18 to 24 year olds among these demographic groups. groups in the state of each college. A college that achieved diversity relative to its state’s population received an A. Low-performing colleges—spoiler alert: most of them—received an F.
The colleges were therefore rewarded to this extent for being in a homogeneous state. For example, the University of Idaho received an A because 1.3% of its enrollment was black in a state where 1.4% of college-age residents are black. The University of Montana did even better in this regard: just under 1% of its students were black, while the state’s black college-age population was just 0.8%. But these student bodies are hardly diverse.
What is more instructive in the report is that most colleges failed. About half of the colleges received passing grades for representation of Latino students, while less than a quarter did so for representation of black students. This is important because one of the ways public colleges measure equity is to achieve enrollment numbers that reflect the diversity of their state. By that standard, the report points out that colleges have a long way to go to meet the diversity and equity demands they’ve faced for years and which have intensified in recent months.
“It is high time for presidents of public colleges to take substantive anti-racism action that matches their burgeoning anti-racism rhetoric,” said Andrew Howard Nichols, senior director of research and data analytics at the Education Trust and author of the report, in a written statement.
Here are five takeaways from the report:
1. Since 2000, the percentage of black students has dropped to nearly 60% of 101 institutions. Latino students do better. All selective public institutions have seen their percentage of Latino students increase since 2000. Yet colleges’ 65% gains were lower than their respective states’ Latino population growth.
2. Colleges in states with large black populations were the least accessible. More than half of the black population of the United States is in 14 Southern states, and nearly all of the 32 colleges in that region received failing grades. “The three failing institutions,” the report says, “were in Kentucky and West Virginia, which are the two Southern states with the lowest proportion of black residents.”
3. Increasing access for Black and Latino students is a matter of will, according to the report, as the institutions studied have significant endowments and the resources to improve access. The report offers 10 steps campus leaders and policy makers can take to improve student diversity. They include: increasing access to high-quality career counselors, using race more prominently in admissions decisions, increasing support for black and Latino students, and reducing the role of standardized testing.
4. State demographics matter. The report notes that the 4.3 percentage point increase in the number of Latino undergraduate students since 2000 at the University of California, Berkeley – from 10.4% to 14.8% of overall enrollment, in rounded numbers – looks good until you consider that the Latino population in California has grown at more than three times that rate.
5. Although many institutions got high marks in the report because their states lacked diversity, a handful of institutions got A grades and were in states with relatively robust minority populations. For example, about 16% of New York’s college-age population is black, while about 17% of students at the State University of New York at Albany are black. Leaders attribute the university’s success to aggressive recruiting, allocating resources to mentoring first-generation and underrepresented students, and creating support programs to make students feel welcome.
Students who have good college experiences are spreading the word in their communities, said Michael N. Christakis, Albany’s vice president for student affairs. “Success breeds success,” he said.