The Class of 2013 saw the most black students matriculate into Cornell since 1973; however, despite the University’s acceptance of more black students, the matriculation rate of accepted black students dropped by about 20 percent for the Class of 2014. Cornell lags behind the other Ivy League universities in the percentage of black students in its student body — 5.4 percent of the University’s students are black, compared to 11 percent at Columbia and 8 percent at both Dartmouth and Princeton. To be fair, Cornell also has the largest student body of all the Ivies, and the largest total number of black students. But despite its larger student body, Cornell has an obligation to devote its considerable resources to increasing the diversity of its campus. This will take more than soliciting applications from, and issuing acceptances to, minority students — the University must entice those students to actually matriculate.
The decline in matriculation rate is not a huge statistical downturn, but it raises questions about the vitality of minority student life on campus, and how that life is portrayed to prospective students. Last year, Cornell focused primarily on bringing more prospective minority students to campus. This was done by diffusing what was once Diversity Hosting Weekend into Diversity Hosting Month so that smaller groups, but a larger total number, of students come to campus within a span of a month rather than just a weekend. By doing this, the Undergraduate Admissions Office was able to host 85 more prospective freshman for the Class of 2014 than for the Class of 2013. With this new structure, however, the number of prospective students actually matriculating into the freshman class declined.
The administration must take a serious look at why the matriculation rate decreased, and what can be done about it. Faculty and students point to the fact that the core foundations of the black community are consistently under turmoil and face instability. As of yet, the Executive Director of the Office of Minority and Educational Affairs has not been replaced; last year, tension in the Africana Studies and Research Center boiled to the brim after a tenured faculty member referred to two graduate students as “black bitches”; and hundreds of black students, alumni and faculty strongly but unsuccessfully lobbied against the sudden removal of Ken Glover, Ujamaa’s Residential Housing Director of 20 years. Simply put, if the overall political and institutional climate does not seem supportive of current black students, prospective black students are less likely to accept admission offers from Cornell.
Accepting a boom and bust cycle of minority student enrollment is an unsustainable approach to increasing diversity. To prevent downturns in minority matriculation rates from becoming common-place trends, Cornell must do more than reach out to prospective minority students for applications. It must also focus inward to ensure that life on campus is supportive and stable for everyone, thereby presenting an enticing college experience to prospective minority students and demonstrating a holistic commitment to both diversity and inclusion.