Some Highly Selective Private Colleges Enrolled More Black, Latino, and Low-Income Students in Fall 2021, New Data Shows


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Diving brief:

  • At 51 selective public and private colleges, the proportion of underrepresented students from racial minorities remained essentially stable between fall 2020 and the following fall, according to recently released data from the College Board.
  • That status quo came despite a surge in applications, an 18% gain at those institutions during that time, reported the College Board, which administers the SAT and Advanced Placement tests.
  • However, at a swath of highly selective private colleges — those with admission rates below 25% — enrollment of black, Hispanic, and other historically disadvantaged students increased between fall 2020 and fall 2021. These 16 institutions saw enrollment of Black and Hispanic or Latinx students increase by 19% and 9%, respectively. Colleges also enrolled about 20% more students from two or more races.

Overview of the dive:

The College Board-led research examines enrollment patterns from fall 2018 to fall 2021, a time when the coronavirus pandemic severely disrupted student recruitment and retention.

Enrollment has plummeted, especially in two-year institutions. More recently, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported a decline of almost 5% in the spring of 2022, undergraduate enrollment compared to the previous year, which is 662,000 fewer students. This compounded previous years of declining enrollment.

The spread of the coronavirus has also prompted colleges to widely adopt optional and no-test policies. The former refers to admissions practices where students do not have to submit SAT or ACT scores, while the latter means institutions will not review assessment scores for admissions.

These policies persisted even as COVID-19 restrictions eased. About 1,700 colleges, including those who have never requested assessment scores, will not require the SAT or ACT for the fall 2023 enrollment cycle.

The new research led by the College Board emphasizes that trends in fall 2021 should not be considered “definitely stable in coming years given the potential ongoing and long-lasting effects of the pandemic.”

The organization also cautions against drawing causal links from the data.

The results, however, provide one of the first examinations of years when the test-optional movement was pushed into overdrive.

Enrollment from underrepresented students — which the College Board report defines as Black, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and two or more races — has grown just 0.5% each year from the l fall 2018 to fall 2021.

The research indicates that this means that the enrollment of these students has remained essentially the same. Indeed, enrollment at the 51 colleges studied increased among all student subgroups — except those with poor high school grades — between fall 2020 and fall 2021.

But white student attendance fell slightly, by about 2%, at the most selective private colleges surveyed. And the share of low-income and first-generation students at these institutions increased by about 17% and 14%, respectively, in one year.

Jeff Selingo, a leading higher education expert, posted on Twitter that College Board data suggests that highly selective private institutions will not return to testing mandates.

“They are up in most numbers which are institutional priorities for many of them,” Selingo wrote.

Critics of entrance exams say the SAT and ACT favor wealthy students who can pay for in-depth tutoring, and therefore scrap the tests because admissions factors would help bolster shares of low-income and minority populations .

The effects of optional test admissions are under study. However, previous research suggests that these practices may slightly improve campus diversity in private colleges. And at the University of Missouri, students who did not provide test scores for fall 2021 earned only a slightly lower GPA in their first term compared to the peers who submitted them. Both groups of students experienced similar retention rates.

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