Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

(Not So) Affirmative Action?

February 12th, 2009 by Ajuan Mance

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education has published its annual roster of statistics for Black student acceptance rates at the nation’s highest ranked colleges and universities. For many critics of affirmative action, these numbers will prove controversial, since in most cases the Black student admit rate is higher than the all college admit rate. Many will interpret this as a clear indication that it is easier for Black students to get into college than it is for the average white student.

In the case of Cornell University, for example, the all-college admit rate is 20.7%. For every hundred applicants to this institution, just over 79 were denied admission. When it comes to Black applicants to Cornell, the prospects were more favorable, but only slightly. With a Black student admit rate of 21.2%, just under 79 out of every 100 Black applicants were denied admission.

The difference between the all-college admit rate and the Black student admit rate is more dramatic in the case of the University of Chicago. In 2008, the overall freshman acceptance rate was 27.9%, but the Black student acceptance rate was 48.7%.

While it is highly possible that some of these numbers are attributable to self-selection (with many weaker and mid-range Black candidates eliminating themselves before the formal application process begins ), the simple fact is like the children of alumni, the scion of wealthy donors, and talented college athletes, Black students are often the beneficiaries of special consideration during the admission process. Affirmative action is alive and well at most highly-ranked colleges and universities and, despite recent efforts to end the practice, the practice shows little signs of abating.

So, if a higher admission rate for Black students is indicative of race-based affirmative action, then how are we to understand those colleges and universities at which Black students are admitted at a lower-than-average rate? Are these institutions also taking race into account, but in a way that hurts rather than benefits students of African descent? Is the lower Black admit rate a factor of the lower average income of Black students’ families? It is certainly conceivable that acollege that does not practice need-blind admissions would admit significant less students from working-class and poor families.

Or are these institutions favoring a particular profile that is more common in non-Black populations? Are they interested in students who combine academics with a type of extra-curricular well-roundedness that is more difficult to achieve for students from impoverished communities and/or under-funded school systems? After all, no matter how good your grades and test scores are, if your school doesn’t offer sports, music programs, or a drama club, then your non-academic options are likely to be very limited.

Whatever the reason, these institutions somehow find Black students more difficult to admit than their non-Black peers. I include this brief list of those selective colleges and universities who admit Black students at a lower rate than other students not only to draw attention and scrutiny to admission practices at these institutions, but also as a point of information for Black prospective students and their families. Such families may wish to consider visiting these campuses and inquiring about the process of admission and the degree to which race may hurt or hinder a student’s prospects for admission. And, for students who are planning to apply to one or more of these institutions, be sure to include at least one or two “safety schools” because, if you are planning to apply to any of the following institutions, the odds are against you.

High Ranking Colleges and Universities with Lower Admit Rates for Black Students (from JBHE)

Emory University — Overall Admit Rate: 26.6% — Black Student Admit Rate: 17.3%

Wake Forest University — Overall Admit Rate: 38.4% — Black Student Admit Rate: 25.8%

University of Southern California — Overall Admit Rate: 21.9% — Black Student Admit Rate: 16.6%

Washington University — Overall Admit Rate: 21.7% — Black Student Admit Rate: 16.9%

UCLA — Overall Admit Rate: 22.9% — Black Student Admit Rate: 16.1%

University of California-Berkeley — Overall Admit Rate: 22.3% — Black Student Admit Rate: 14.8%

Davidson College — Overall Admit Rate: 25.7% — Black Student Admit Rate: 25.5%

Bryn Mawr College — Overall Admit Rate: 48.8% — Black Student Admit Rate: 32.1%

Smith College — Overall Admit Rate: 47.7% — Black Student Admit Rate: 36.4%

Lafayette College — Overall Admit Rate: 37.2% — Black Student Admit Rate: 30.7%

Barnard College — Overall Admit Rate: 28.5% — Black Student Admit Rate: 25.1%

Macalester College — Overall Admit Rate: 41.1% — Black Student Admit Rate: 32.5%

Washington and Lee University — Overall Admit Rate: 16.5% — Black Student Admit Rate: 16.4%

Bucknell University — Overall Admit Rate: 29.8% — Black Student Admit Rate: 19.5%

Harvey Mudd College — Overall Admit Rate: 31.1% — Black Student Admit Rate: 29.0%

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in African Americans, Black Students, Current Events, Higher Education, race, racism

7 Responses

  1. SjP

    These are very interesting data. I’m wondering how the percentages translate into real numbers. I suspect that the number of Black applicants is relatively low as compared to white applicants. If that assumption is true, then the admit rates are even more dismal.

    It would also be interesting to know the rate at which Blacks who were recruited are admitted as compared to those who were not. Interesting, to say the least and very good advise.

  2. yolio

    These numbers are hard to interpret without application rates. If I understand correctly, this the racial composition of those who are accepted. You rightly note the issue of self-selecting out of the applicant pool, but there is at least one other reason for deviance from the national average in the applicant pool: regionalism. In particular, UCLA and UCB are state schools who disproportionately admit Californian’s. California is about 6.3% african american, compared to a national average closer to 11%. I bet you’d find that these schools admit higher than national averages of latinos, which is consistent with the high latino population.

  3. Roger Clegg

    These rates don’t control for relative qualifications (most basically, high school grades and SAT/ACT scores). They also don’t control for state residence (which is relevant since many state schools, in particular, give a preference to in-state applicants) or legacy status. Accordingly, these numbers don’t tell us much about the role that race plays.

  4. chuck

    if I were to set up a site as you have slanted to the anglo point of view I would be called a biggot. The double standard that resides in this the greatest county leaves me confused and speechless. What is wrong with just being an American? I am just an American, I did not attend college for a nominal price, I receive no benefits from our government and I am altimately just a taxpayer that watches our government spend away our country’s future.
    Sincerely awaiting your honest reply.

  5. Ajuan Mance

    Yolio, these statistics are intended to indicate the number of Black students who are admitted for every 100 Black applicants. For example, for every 100 students who apply to UC Berkeley, overall, roughly 22 are admitted; but for every 100 Black students who apply to UC Berkeley, only about 14 are admitted. This means that some groups are admitted at a disproportionate rate to the number they represent within the larger applicant pool.

    These numbers do take into account the application rate. Thank you for requesting clarification.

    Chuck: As a fellow American who was accepted into college without the aid of special benefits from the government, I welcome your interest in the Black experience in higher education. I am somewhat surprised that you believe that this blog, which celebrates and the achievements of African Americans is U.S. colleges and universities and the issues that such students encounter, is somehow bigoted or racist. There are many websites by bloggers of various ethnicities that examine the issues that shape how students, faculty, and administrators in their racial or ethnic group experience this country’s system of higher education.

    I wonder whether or not Italian American, Irish American, German America, Swedish, Greek American, and Jewish American blogs trouble you in the same that my African American blog does. All of these ethnic groups hold celebrations of cultural pride at various times throughout the year, and there a many websites that have been created to celebrate the heritage and debate the issues that define these groups.

    I am the descendant of U.S. Black slaves held in Maryland, South Carolina, and Florida, and I am very interested in and proud of the history and culture and literature of my people; but pride in my heritage should not be interpreted as a disdain for other people’s personal and ethnic histories. It is a common mistake that many people have made about African Americans and other ethnic groups that celebrate their heritage.

    I welcome you to explore this site more deeply. Please feel free to contact me with any additional questions.

  6. joe

    I respect your opinion escecially some of the points about weaker african-american students eliminating themselves from the admission process, but please take a look at my blog so you can understand both sides.

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