Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Ivy League Crush Raises Profile of the Nation’s “Second Tier”

May 19th, 2007 by Ajuan Mance

According to a recent New York Times article (Ivy League Crunch Brings New Cachet to Next Tier), Ivy League schools are more difficult to get into than ever before, which is bad news for prospective applicants, but great news for what has traditionally been known as the “second tier.”

As Ivy League admission rates have dropped from the low double digits to the very, very low double digits (from 20% or so down to 12% or less), institutions like Kenyon College (Ohio), Lehigh University, (Pennsylvania), Tufts University (Massachusetts), Pomona College (California), Bowdoin College (Maine), the University of Michigan, and the University of Virginia have experienced dramatic increases in the number of high school seniors seeking admission.

Consider these examples: Kenyon College received 4,200 applications this year, up from 2,000 apps only six years ago; Lehigh’s applicant pool of 12,000 represents a 50% increase over the last 7 years; and the University of Vermont’s 19,000 current applicants are more than double the number of students applying on 7 years ago (7, 400).

This may be great news for the so-called second tier; but is it great news for Black applicants? 

The Ivy League crush and the resulting selectivity trickle down will probably have little impact on Black admission and recruitment at private institutions. The Ivy League has for the most part had greater success that their counterparts in the next tier at recruiting and matriculating the nation’s strongest Black applicants. Using a combination of reputation, nationally recognized Black faculty, agressive minority recruitment, and generous financial aid packages, the 8 schools of the Ivy league have tended to enroll a disproportionate number of the nation’s Black National Merit Scholars (finalists and semi-finalists), National Achivement Scholars, valedictorians, and high scorers on the AP exams. The crush of applicants at colleges like Kenyon, Bowdoin, Lehigh, and Tufts is unlikely to have an impact on this trend, especially given the bold financial aid initiatives that institutions like Harvard have recently put into place to relieve the debt load on students whose families earn less that $80,000 a year.

The increasing selectivity of the second tier will have a greater impact on Black applicants to the nation’s most selective public institutions. Expect a downturn in the admission and enrollment figures at these schools, especially those located in Michigan and other states with ballot initiative systems. As the selectivity of major flagship universities increases, so too will the likelihood that anti-affirmative action measures will be placed on the ballot and approved by voters. Thus a dramatic decrease in the number of African American students in particular is quite likely at popular public universities across the nation.

The least predictable factor is how the smaller private colleges and universities will themselves respond to their greater selectivity. Such institutions might dramatically improve their Black student enrollments if they are willing to seek African American applicants from less traditional sources. Such institutions should be on the lookout for strong academic performers from low-profile urban and rural high schools that rarely send students to 4-year colleges; for first-generation college enrollees whose high school grades and curricula show great promise, but whose SAT scores might have suffered from lack of coaching and preparation; and for Black students whose grades and test scores are strong, but who might be overlooked by public university systems that have abolished their affirmative action programs. 

At the same time that these colleges and universities are beginning to look at themselves as national insitutions, I hope that they will continue or–in some cases–that they will start to cultivate a Black applicant pool that is local. This is a great moment for these smaller institutions. I hope that they will seize the opportunities that their prominence is opening up to them, and that each of the colleges will just the quality of its applicant pool not just by its selectivity, but by is diversity, as well.

Posted by Ajuan Mance


Posted in Affirmative Action, African Americans, Black Students, Current Events, Harvard University, Ivy League, My Favorite Blogs, race

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