Black students opt out of CMU

Despite dogged efforts by the Office of Admissions, diversity is down at Carnegie Mellon this year.

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (JBHE) published its 14th annual survey of first-year blacks at the nation’s highest-ranked universities and liberal arts colleges; Carnegie Mellon posted significant declines in two population areas.

Carnegie Mellon’s number of black first-years declined 25 percent, from 79 to 59 students out of 1453 in this year’s first-year class. The university is one of eight high-ranking universities with a decline greater than 10 percent.

Only 18 percent of black students offered admission at Carnegie Mellon accepted their offers. This statistic — black student yield — was lower at Carnegie Mellon than at any of its peer institutions.

“Our friends just outgunned us,” said William Elliott, vice-president of enrollment.

There was nothing subtle about 301 of 360 admitted black students opting for other institutions this year.

According to Carnegie Mellon’s admissions statistics, 12 of those students chose the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) instead. Stanford University, Duke University, and five Ivy League schools were among other top student alternatives.

“The financial aid might be better at some of these schools. We’ll go back and analyze if financial aid can be more generous, but you have to be careful there. Giving someone more money means someone else is getting less,” Elliott said.

The university saw applications from 940 black applicants this year, one of the highest numbers in school history. Elliott attributed the increase to Carnegie Mellon’s Summer Academy for Math and Sciences, a summer program geared towards the black and Hispanic populations. All of the approximately 1000 students that attended the program were encouraged to apply to Carnegie Mellon. This was a change from years past, when only certain students were encouraged based on their qualifications.

“Some kids that applied from the summer program might have been encouraged to apply even though they were less than qualified. I can’t prove it.” Elliott said.

The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is an institution similar to Carnegie Mellon in its focus on mathematics and sciences. While it appeared to have the largest percentage increase in black first-years of all top-ranked universities, at 200 percent, it actually only had three black students in its first-year class. Caltech was one of the smallest of all schools surveyed, with 1.4 percent of the entire first-year class composed of black students. Last year the school had one black student in its first-year class. One of those students chose Caltech over an offer of admission from Carnegie Mellon.

Columbia University did the best of Ivy League institutions with blacks constituting 9.4 percent of the first-year class. The University of Pennsylvania posted a 26 percent black acceptance rate, compared with only 18 percent for the overall student body. This was one of the biggest acceptance differentials of all participating schools. Nearby Swarthmore College in suburban Philadelphia was top-ranked among liberal arts colleges, with 11.6 percent of first-years being black.

Haverford College, ranked second, and Bryn Mawr College, ranked seventh, rounded out the trio of successful liberal arts colleges in this geographic area.

“Those three schools have all shown a deep commitment to increasing racial diversity. Location certainly helps: They can get students from Maryland, New York, and New Jersey, in addition to Pennsylvania,” said Robert Slater, managing editor for JBHE. Slater wrote the black enrollment survey article that reports on Carnegie Mellon and other top institutions’ enrollment statistics for his publication’s fall 2006 issue.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill led all 30 schools surveyed, with a 12 percent black first-year class. The Tar Heels have earned the distinction of highest percentage of black students out of the entire first-year class six times in eight years.

“They have a lot of kids that are graduating from high schools in North Carolina,” Slater said. He also frequently emphasized the role geography plays in the college admissions process.
Slater mentioned that this factor may have also played a significant role for students choosing MIT over Caltech, for the large increase in black enrollment at liberal arts colleges in the Philadelphia suburbs, and for students choosing to attend University of Maryland.

Four black students offered admission to Carnegie Mellon chose the University of Maryland. Statistics for how many students admitted to both universities that chose Carnegie Mellon over Maryland for undergraduate studies were not available.

“All of these schools are very competitive in their recruitment of African-American students. It is an intense competition to get many of the same kids,” Slater said.

Elliott singled out Princeton University, the last Ivy League school to begin admitting black students (1947), as a particularly successful institution this year in luring black students with financial aid. That school declined to comment on the grounds of its policy to speak only to Princeton reporters.

Elliott also noted that the 59 students that Carnegie Mellon reported to JBHE’s sources had been updated to 61. This reflected two more black students who had not reported being black on their initial application.

Elliott speculated that there still could be even more than 61.