Diversity gains at top ten universities don’t include black students
The majority of Big Ten Conference universities have a lower percentage of black students enrolled in their institutions than 20 years ago. And those declines came despite impressive gains in the overall racial / ethnic diversity of American students at these institutions over the same time period.
In order to examine the changes in undergraduate diversity at the 14 Big Ten institutions, I inspected the most recent figures from the common dataset collected and submitted by each (typically for the 2020-21 academic year ) and compared them to the numbers in the common data set. each had reported about two decades ago. In most cases, this comparison year was 2001-2002, but, in cases where facilities did not include data that far away, I used the furthest year available on the website. university where I relied on its internal institutional research figures.
Among the 14 major universities, ten saw a drop in the percentage of black undergraduates seeking a degree. They are:
- Michigan State University, from 8.88% in 2002 to 7.67% in 2021.
- Northwestern University, from 6.04% in 2002 to 5.90% in 2021.
- Ohio State University, from 8.09% in 2003 to 7.16% in 2021.
- Pennsylvania State University, from 4.11% in 2003 to 4.09% in 2021.
- Purdue University, from 3.60% in 2008 to 2.6% in 2021.
- Rutgers University, from 8.23% in 2002 to 6.48% in 2021.
- University of Illinois, from 7.56% in 2004 to 6.42% in 2021.
- University of Maryland, from 13.01% in 2008 to 11.77% in 2021.
- University of Michigan, from 7.83% in 2002 to 3.99% in 2021.
- University of Wisconsin, from 2.18% in 2002 to 2.03% in 2021.
Four universities – Illinois, Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan – saw a decrease in the absolute number of black undergraduate students pursuing studies in their schools during this period.
Of the four universities (Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska) with a percentage gain in black undergraduate students, only the University of Minnesota saw a substantial increase, adding 744 black students over the past 20 years, increasing their percentage of undergraduate students from 3.96% in 2002 to 5.95% in 2021.
During this same period, each Big Ten University has dramatically increased the overall racial / ethnic diversity of its national undergraduate student body. (Included in the percentages of overall diversity are students identified in the common data set as Hispanic / Latino, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asians, Native Hawaiian or other Islanders. of the Pacific, and at least two races).
In 2021, the overall diversity percentages for undergraduates across the 14 Big Ten schools ranged from a low of 17.7% at the University of Nebraska to a high of 53.8% at Rutgers University. The median was 24.7%.
Compare that to the baseline year for each facility, which dates back over a decade, and the increase in diversity is evident. The range went from a low of 6.4% at the University of Nebraska to a high of 36.5% at Rutgers University. The median was 15.5%.
Four universities – Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin – doubled the percentage of undergraduate students from racial / ethnic minorities, and Penn State, Purdue and Minnesota also came close to achieving that rate of increase.
Where do the minority increases come from? First, to understand the percentage changes, it’s important to realize that all but two of these universities – the State of Ohio and the University of Michigan – have seen their absolute numbers of white students decline over the course of the year. of this period.
In half of the Big Ten universities – Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, Wisconsin – the drop in white undergraduates has exceeded 2,000 students. While white students still make up the largest group of undergraduate students at each of these institutions, their share of enrollment is declining.
Two groups of minority students – Hispanic / Latino and Asian – account for the vast majority of diversity gains at each institution. Here are just a few illustrations:
- In 2002, Northwestern University enrolled 350 Hispanic undergraduate students. By 2021, that number had tripled to 1,062. The University of Michigan doubled its number of Hispanics from 1,031 in 2002 to 2,176 in 2021. At the University of Illinois, Hispanic undergraduates rose from 1,808 in 2004 to 4,599 in 2021. Indiana University has seen the number of Hispanic students quadruple, from 578 in 2002 to 2,556 in 2021.
- At the University of Maryland, 3,585 Asian students were enrolled in 2008; by 2021, that number had risen to 5,796. Rutgers doubled its Asian undergraduate students from 5,330 in 2002 to 10,713 in 2021. The University of Wisconsin as well, from 1,199 in 2002 to 2,463 in 2021.
Another possibility may be at play as an explanation. The common dataset now allows students to be assigned a category of “two or more races”, a classification that was not provided during the base years. It is possible that this new category has disproportionately reduced the percentage of black students, who now identify with this category more often than other racial / ethnic groups. I think that’s unlikely, given the percentage increases seen with other racial groups as well as the national trends referenced below, but it’s a factor that merits further exploration.
The point is that the admirable increase in undergraduate diversity at Big Ten universities has been accomplished without any significant gain in the representation of black students over the past two decades. They have been largely ignored. The overall gain of minority undergraduate students masked the lack of progress with regard to black students and, to a similar extent, the loss of white students.
This phenomenon is not unique to the Big Ten, even if, due to the importance of these institutions, they carry particular weight. A recent national analysis from the Center For American Progress shows a similar pattern. According to this report, public colleges enrolled 17.84 million undergraduates in the 2014-2015 academic year. Five years later, that number had dropped to nearly 425,000 students, a drop of nearly 2.5 percentage points.
However, the losses were not evenly distributed. The number of Latinx public students increased during this five-year period, gaining more than 50,000 students. At the same time, enrollments for black and white students fell just under 9%, equivalent to a loss of over 200,000 and 810,000 students, respectively.
Another report, from The Education Trust, looked at 101 of the most selective public colleges and universities to explore enrollment trends for black and Latino students between 2000 and 2017. At nearly 60% of these institutions, the percentage of Black students had declined since 2000. By contrast, 100% of these institutions had increased their share of Latino students.
Equal access to a high quality college education remains more important than ever. But for many black students, this access does not occur. The reasons for the divergent trends in enrollment of minority students in large public universities, such as those in the Big Ten, need to be carefully investigated. And then it’s imperative that these institutions get to work and do a better job of educating more black Americans.