September 2, 2013

University Officials: Diversity at Cornell Defies Study Conclusions

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Responding to a recent study that declared that top universities in the United States still lack racial and economic diversity, Cornell officials maintained the University has made above-and-beyond efforts to increase the enrollment of diverse students on campus.

The study, which was conducted by Anthony Carnevale and Jeff Strohl of the Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce, found that low-income students and minorities are underrepresented at selective four-year universities.

Since 1995, white students have been relatively overrepresented at selective four-year colleges, while Hispanic and African-American students have been relatively overrepresented at two-year, open-access schools, according to the study.

The lack of minority representation in top colleges results in lower graduation rates among minorities compared to white students, the study concluded.

Although the study suggests that the phenomenon exists at selective four-year universities, members of the Cornell community are disputing the validity of the results as far as the University is concerned.

“Cornell has made extraordinary efforts and committed substantial financial aid resources to increasing socioeconomic, racial and ethnic diversity on campus,” Prof. Ronald Ehrenberg, industrial and labor relations, said.

More than 240,000 high-achieving, low-income high school students do not go on to earn a degree, which the study says may be due to the rigorous application process of selective colleges, as well as the ease and affordability of open-access institutions.

Of those 240,000 low-income students, minorities are disproportionately represented — one in four are either African American or Hispanic.

According to Thaddeus Talbot ’15, Student Assembly minority liaison at-large, one factor the Georgetown study does not take into account is the effort universities are making to increase racial and economic diversity on their campuses. For instance, at Cornell, Talbot is co-chair a group that works to increase black male graduation rates.

“We are obligated … to search for a belief in some form of equality and act upon it,” Talbot said. “It starts right here, right now, right on Cornell’s campus.”

Members of the Cornell faculty and administration also emphasized that the University’s admissions policies favor economic diversity, meeting 100 percent of admitted students’ financial need and practicing a need-blind admissions policy.

“The administration and the trustees have long made diversity a priority,” Ehrenberg said.

The University’s financial aid initiatives emphasize “families with a total family income of less than $60,000 and total assets of less than $100,000 will have no parent contribution,” according to the University’s financial aid website.

Ehrenberg noted that the Class of 2017 is one of the most diverse freshman classes in Cornell’s history.

Original Author: Anushka Mehrotra