Despite Cornell’s efforts to increase black student enrollment, the proportion of black students in this year’s class dropped by about 20 percent from last year. While 216 black students enrolled in the Class of 2013 — 6.7 percent of the total class — the Class of 2014 saw that number decrease to 172, 5.3 percent of the total class.
With black students making up roughly 5.4 percent of the student body, Cornell has the lowest proportion of black students enrolled in the Ivy League — trailing, for instance, Dartmouth College at 8 percent, Princeton University at 8 percent and Columbia University at 11 percent, according to Princeton Review’s 373 Best Colleges, 2011 Edition.
This year’s numbers follow the Class of 2013, which was “very likely” the largest class of black students in Cornell’s history, according to Director of Undergraduate Admissions Jason Locke.
In an e-mail, Locke said that although the number of black applicants increased for the eighth consecutive year and that Cornell “again had a strong admission year for black students,” fewer accepted black students decided to matriculate at Cornell.
The percentage of students who accepted an admissions offer, called the “yield,” dropped this year by approximately 5 percent for black students. Locke said Cornell is “still reviewing data to better understand” why the yield fell.
He stressed the importance of looking at multiple years when discussing enrollment trends, touting “steady enrollment gains” for black students of over 20 percent in the last decade.Still, although the number of total enrolled black students has risen from 606 to 745 between 2000 and 2009, the proportion of African-Americans in the student body only rose 0.8 percent over the same period of time — or, going farther back, 0.7 percent since 1990.
Student Assembly Minority Representative and Chair of the Joint Assembly for Multicultural Issues Committee Michael Finn ’11 identified the financial crisis — and the subsequent loss of endowment funds — as a potential reason for the decline in enrollment of black students.Since the University is in a “financial bind,” it “can’t commit to bringing students here who would be draining University finances,” Finn said. But Director of the Africana Studies and Research Center Robert Harris disagreed with Finn, citing Cornell’s recent policy of covering need-based loans for families with incomes under $75,000.
Locke also said that, although changes to financial aid policies for low to moderate income students “are not directed by race/ethnicity per se,” these changes have “helped enormously … [in enrolling] more black and Hispanic students.”Given that enrollment figures change each year, Harris said “only if we continue to trend down [would I] be very much concerned.”
Locke outlined several steps taken by Cornell to prevent a downward trend from occurring, including reassessing the admissions process to put “an even greater emphasis … on the holistic reading process rather than on standardized test scores,” expanding Cornell’s “Diversity Hosting program” and working “aggressively” with community-based organizations.
Harris and Locke agreed that the percentage of black students at Cornell is lower than at its fellow Ivies because of Cornell’s size.“If you look at actual numbers, however, you’ll see that the number of freshman blacks is large when compared to many of our peer institutions,” Locke stated.
Robert Bruce Slater, managing editor of the Journal of Blacks in Higher Ed, said Cornell has “traditionally been at the low end of the Ivy League” in the “intense competition for highly qualified black students among top schools.”Slater said Cornell’s location has put it “at somewhat of a disadvantage,” given that some Ivies, such as Columbia and Penn, are in “centers of black population and black culture.”
Still, Slater praised Cornell’s “conscious effort to try and improve their numbers,” particularly that of the last five years. He cited the high proportion of black students in the class of 2013 — the fifth highest proportion in the Ivy League for that year, according to his data — as evidence that Cornell is improving.
Roneal Desai ’13, also on the Joint Assemblies Multicultural Issues Committee and an S.A. Minority Representative, said that Cornell should work to increase the size of its tenured black professorial faculty to increase the low enrollment totals.He said that the low percentage of tenured black faculty “could be an indirect correlation for how minority culture is perceived on campus,” and thus could adversely effect enrollment totals.
Desai cited an inconsistency between the percentage of non-Asian minority tenured faculty (5.47 percent of all faculty) and non-Asian minority probationary faculty (11.4 percent), saying this discrepancy “either shows faculty is leaving for places they consider better or that we’re not making sure they have the tools necessary for them to succeed.” Desai said the University Diversity Council is conducting a three-stage project to remedy what it sees as “a lack of alignment between University and student goals,” “a lack of coordination between minority groups,” and “a lack of correct perception between students and faculty on minority issues.” He added the council is “looking to improve hiring and retention of minority professors and students.”
Slater agreed with the importance of enrolling more black students in institutions of higher education. Even though the “number of blacks [that] go to Ivy League schools is a tiny percentage, that itself is not going to have a huge impact on the racial income gap,” Slater said.
He said that getting more black students into Ivy League schools will mean that “the leadership of the country will be diversified for generations to come” and that “bringing in more students of different backgrounds changes the outlook of students as a whole.”
Finn said that there has been a recent shift in the demographic of black students admitted. He said that, previously, Cornell “would take inner-city black students otherwise not able to afford this education,” but it now takes black students “of a higher economic status.”
Finn added that the University misrepresents the nature of its student body. “If you look at the Cornell website, you would think you can barely see a student of Caucasian descent [at Cornell]; that’s not really the true face of Cornell,” Finn said.