November 14, 2002

Black Admissions Down at C.U.

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Cornell has the lowest percentage of African-American students in this year’s freshman class within the Ivy League, according to The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

The Journal listed the top 27 universities as ranked by US News and World Report.

University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill ranked highest, with black students making up 12.5 percent of the school’s freshman class. Yale, with a freshman class that is 8.5 percent black, ranked at the top of the Ivy League.

Cornell is at the bottom of the list for the Ivy League and 22nd overall. The University has a freshman class that is made up of 4.9 percent black students.

Officials for the University gave multiple reasons for the ranking.

“What you will often find is that we have a large absolute number but a smaller percentage overall because we have the largest number of students,” said Robert L. Harris, Jr., vice provost of diversity and faculty development.

Harris added that the results may also be slightly off because the numbers are all self-reported. Cornell gives students the option of checking off that they are multi-racial or bi-racial, a move that Harris said was made after “students complained that they were being forced to identify with one parent.”

Sivilay Somchanhmavong, the co-ordinator of multicultural recruitment for the office of admission, agreed that Cornell’s size may lead to a slightly skewed perspective on how large the black student population actually is.

He explained, however, that there are other reasons for the admittedly low percentage of black students in the freshman class.

“Cornell competes with a lot of talented institutions. We are all competing for the same students and we may win or lose due to competition,” Somchanhmavong said.

Cornell’s admissions office is unsure how Yale’s recent decision to change their early decision option into a non-binding early action policy will affect the black student percentages positively or negatively in the next few years.

One student said she understood how Cornell’s place in the Ivy League might affect how many black students come to the University.

“Cornell is not one of the name-brand Ivies. It’s not Yale, Harvard or Princeton, who get the top students of color in the country. There aren’t a whole lot of top students of color who are completely prepared to go to an elite institution and do well,” Kyessa Moore ’04 said.

Since 1993, Cornell’s black student population has gone up by 22.5 percent, while Harvard, Columbia and University of Pennsylvania’s populations have all gone down.

Like all of the universities listed, except for Washington University in St. Louis, Cornell’s acceptance rate of 35.8 percent for black students is much higher than the overall acceptance rate of 28.5 percent.

“We need to increase applications from African-American students. The more applications we evaluate, the more we can examine the pool we have. We’re limited by the number of quality applicants we receive. Our main charge is to increase applications from African-American, Hispanic-American and Native American students,” Somchanhmavong said.

The University admissions office is working collectively with admissions offices of the individual colleges to target minority students and encourage them to apply, according to Somchanhmavong.

The office sends out direct mailings, sends officers to visit high schools that have large minority populations and invites students to programs on campus, all in an effort to increase minority student applications.

“We are working aggressively to improve our percentage. I do recognize that we have some work to do collectively to improve the numbers,” Somchanhmavong said.

Archived article by Freda Ready