Race + Higher Ed: Fear Not, Suzy. You’re Still #1!

By Kendra James

As we celebrate the graduating classes of 2013 over the next few weekends, lets take some time to glance at the new data on college graduation percentages vs. minority enrollment rates. There’s no accompanying article to the data (all via the National Center for Education Statistics, 2011), but if there were I suspect it would start like this: “Fear not, Suzy. You’re still #1.”

At Elite Colleges, an Admissions Gap for Minorities - Interactive Feature - NYTimes.com (1)
At Elite Colleges, an Admissions Gap for Minorities - Interactive Feature - NYTimes.com

Click through to the Times site in order to highlight more school names, but featured we have Duke, Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Northwestern, UC Berkley, Notre Dame, UC San Diego, and University of Maryland.

 One thing to take from this? College is expensive. None of these schools aside from the two UCs and Maryland offer a discounted in-state residential tuition. If the median income (2009) for a white family in America is $62,545, but $38,409 for a Black family then while neither is going to be able to pay Harvard’s tuition out of pocket on a yearly salary, one family is certainly more likely to have an easier time of it, more savings, and perhaps an easier time applying for a student loan. How many students are choosing Rutgers over Princeton, not because they want to, but because they have to?

The UCs and the University of Maryland (UMD) both offer cheaper instate tuition, but their instate minority populations are of a completely different makeup. Maryland is 29.4% Black, 8.2% Latino/Hispanic and 5.5% Asian, while California is  38.1% Latino/Hispanic,13.6% Asian, and 6.6% Black. So if we’re thinking that affordability could be a factor for these populations when considering colleges, then the change in makeup could affect the enrollment. If you can’t afford to move out of state for a private college tuition then perhaps you can’t for state college tuition either– Rutgers instate tuition is around $24,000, compared to $37,000 for out of state residents.

Lets consider the state of Maryland once again. UMD’s cheaper tuition starts at (not including room and board, books, etc) $8,909 for residents, and jumps to $27,288 for non residents. At an 81.8% graduation rate, they’re also 15.9% Black students which make for great numbers on this graph. In comparison, Morgan State University (a public university, but with their own board of regents) starts at $3,609 for residents and $8,316 for non-residents. The HBCU is more financially accessible and eliminates one of the major stresses students face during college, but with that comes 30.7% six year graduation rate. It goes without saying that college choices shouldn’t be this starkly contrasted.

At Elite Colleges, an Admissions Gap for Minorities - Interactive Feature - NYTimes.com (2)
*Again note that  geography likely also plays a role; the schools the NYTimes chooses to highlight are in California.

From the Washington Post:

“In a report by Richard Fry and Paul Taylor, the center says that “a record seven-in-ten (69%) Hispanic high school graduates in the class of 2012 enrolled in college that fall, two percentage points higher than the rate (67%) among their white counterparts.”

Furthermore, the center’s analysis of new data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that according to the most recent available data, in 2011, “only 14% of Hispanic 16- to 24-year-olds were high school dropouts, half the level in 2000 (28%).”

This is great news, but according to the graph above there may be more enrolled in college, but they’re still not necessarily in the same caliber as school as their counterparts.  Why does that matter? Our commenters got into this a bit in our Suzy Lee Weiss post, some asking why it matters whether or not kids get to attend a “name brand” school. It’s true, we do place an unnecessary emphasis on getting into places like Harvard or Yale, but like any school they do have tangible potential advantages. Whether it’s the high graduation rates, the alumni network, the job bank awaiting once you graduate, the connections you’ll make while you’re there, the well known professors, or simply the prestige that society does place on graduates of certain schools, there are benefits stemming from that brand name degree. Connections and opportunities on an Ivy League campus aren’t handed out at orientation –students presumably still have to put themselves out there to build relationships– but the advantage comes down to the types of connections one is more likely to make and the attitude they’re fostered under.

Then there’s the simple fact that some schools just expect more from their graduates, and a popular, well known school with generations of successful alumni is more likely to have the endowment to help nurture those expectations. When it comes to college, money is always going to play a role. However, the fact remains that ones reputation shouldn’t be immediately tarnished because their resume says SUNY Binghamton instead of Cornell.

This data shows us that despite college attendance and graduation being a notable achievement overall, Latina/o students still may not be on equal footing with whites once they get out. Accessibility to top four year colleges with high graduation rates is clearly still an issue, on par with the national discussion we need to have on college name brand cache.

At Elite Colleges, an Admissions Gap for Minorities - Interactive Feature - NYTimes.com (3)

So while Asian-Americans (they fail to specify if they’re including the entire Asian continent in their data) are doing well in elite schools, it’s much harder for them to get there. Take this op-ed, also from the NY Times, a year ago:

Asian-Americans constitute 5.6 percent of the nation’s population but 12 to 18 percent of the student body at Ivy League schools. But if judged on their merits — grades, test scores, academic honors and extracurricular activities — Asian-Americans are underrepresented at these schools. Consider that Asians make up anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of the student population at top public high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science in New York City, Lowell in San Francisco and Thomas Jefferson in Alexandria, Va., where admissions are largely based on exams and grades.

In a 2009 study of more than 9,000 students who applied to selective universities, the sociologists Thomas J. Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford found that white students were three times more likely to be admitted than Asians with the same academic record.

Sound familiar? In the 1920s, as high-achieving Jews began to compete with WASP prep schoolers, Ivy League schools started asking about family background and sought vague qualities like “character,” “vigor,” “manliness” and “leadership” to cap Jewish enrollment. These unofficial Jewish quotas weren’t lifted until the early 1960s, as the sociologist Jerome Karabel found in his 2005 history of admissions practices at Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

According to research by Priceonomics, a few of the UC schools buck this trend. That’s due in part to a 1996 ruling on Proposition 209, making it illegal for UC schools to consider race, ethnicity, or gender in their admissions process at all. Take a look at the UC Berkeley’s admissions jump:


So while Asian-Americans are doing incredibly well in comparison to their Black and Latino/a counterparts, they could potentially achieve a higher admissions rate in top schools. They face different challenges in the college admissions process, but from the lens of being perceived as almost too good– a threat to the admission of other students.

Cumulatively the data shows us that while there have been gains in minority college admissions, it’s probably still easier to walk into Mordor than it is to attend and graduate a top, four year college as a non-white, American student. The question becomes, what else can we do about it?

About This Blog

Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at team@racialicious.com.

The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.

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  • Rachel Kantstopdaphunk

    That final line made me lol despite the gravity of the subject matter