Black First-Year Students at the Nation’s Leading Research Universities

Once again, this year The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education has completed its survey of admissions offices at the nation’s highest-ranked research universities. For the 29th consecutive year, we have calculated and compared the percentages of Black/African-American students in this fall’s entering classes. We also compared this year’s numbers to the previous year and, where possible, note differences in acceptances rates for Black students compared to the overall admissions pool.

We would like to make a few comments before we present this year’s data.

When JBHE started this survey nearly three decades ago, our aim was to create an annual tabulation that would serve as a vehicle where our nation’s leading universities would compete to move up the ladder or our rankings of Black first-year students. JBHE has always maintained that the Black presence at our nation’s top universities and colleges is an important barometer of educational equality.

Over the past decades, the progress has been substantial. In 2004, only two of the nation’s highest-ranked universities had incoming classes that were more than 10 percent Black. This year there are 18 high-ranked universities for which we have data that have an entering class that is more than 10 percent Black. (We did not receive responses from Harvard or Duke, both of which in all probability have entering classes that are at least 10 percent Black. Harvard reported that nearly 16 percent of the students that it admitted were Black.) This year there are 14 high-ranking universities that have an entering class that is at least 12 percent Black. A year ago there were eight. In 2004, there were none.

Yet, despite this progress, colleges and universities are becoming increasingly reluctant to provide data to JBHE, particularly on their acceptance rate of Black students. When we began, almost all of the major universities and all of the leading liberal arts colleges were willing to supply data on Black student acceptance rate and Black student yield. That is no longer the case.

Several years ago, Harvard University told JBHE that it would no longer participate in our survey. Last December, Princeton University issued a statement that read in part “we have now made the decision not to release admission data during the early action, regular decision and transfer admission cycles.” Princeton did reply to our survey after its application deadline.

But other admissions officials believe that full disclosure can be beneficial. Donald Bishop, associate vice president for undergraduate enrollment at the University of Notre Dame, told JBHE that “your survey is very important and highly reviewed by our trustees, faculty, and other groups that are assessing Notre Dame. I am grateful that you continue to use what I believe is the most accurate form of including students with an African identity. We are always delighted to be included and always working hard to improve our outcomes.”

Undoubtedly, the recent litigation involving the admissions practices of Harvard University concerning Asian American students – that will now be heard by the Supreme Court – appears to have struck a nerve in higher education circles. Colleges and universities increasingly seem to want to hold their cards close to their vests and not add fuel to efforts to challenge affirmative action admissions policies. They may also want to avoid having to defend their admissions policy in court at considerable expense.

Unquestionably, public and private litigation threats to affirmative action policies in college admissions have been a factor in producing this sensitivity. With this in mind, admissions officers — who, we believe, on the whole, are solidly supportive of affirmative action — have apprehensions when statistics on Black admissions are made available to the public. There are standard concerns too that racial conservatives on faculties and trustees may interpret the figures as suggesting a so-called dumbing down of academic standards and a favoring of “unqualified” Blacks over perhaps more qualified Whites. Probably, more importantly, these research universities may be unwilling to alienate conservative alumni and donors who come to believe that the university is giving what they believe to be unfair advantages to Blacks and members of other underrepresented groups.

JBHE does not believe there are sinister motives for this lack of disclosure. Generally, we believe that most major universities and high-ranking liberal arts colleges are dedicated to increasing diversity so that their student populations mirror the nation’s population. Indeed, the figures on Black student enrollments that have risen dramatically over the years tend to show this commitment.

As a result of this hesitancy to report acceptance rates and yields, in recent years JBHE has published annual tables where a great deal of the data was listed as “Not Available.” (See last year’s survey table here.) Going forward, we will report what information we are able to obtain through our survey of admissions departments, official institutional statistics, or published reports. We do not make judgments on why a particular college or university chooses not to participate. But we continue to believe that providing Black students and their families with information relating to their prospects for admission at our top universities is important. We will continue to request this information in the hope that universities will be more forthcoming in the future if and when the threat of litigation subsides.

Black Students in the Class of 2025

For nine years in a row, Columbia had the highest percentage of Black first-year students among the highest-ranking universities in the nation. Four years ago, Columbia finished in a virtual dead heat for first place but was narrowly edged out by Washington University for the top spot. Again in 2017, Columbia finished in second place with an entering class that was 13.9 percent Black.

In 2018, Columbia University once again sat atop the JBHE rankings. Blacks made up 15.5 percent of the 2018 entering class. At that time, it was the highest percentage of Black students in the entering class of a major research university in the 29 years of the JBHE survey. In 2019, Columbia retained the top spot. There were 212 Black students in the entering class. They make up 15.2 percent of the first-year students.

A year ago Columbia dropped to second behind Princeton University. But this year Columbia is once again on top with an entering class that is 17.5 percent Black. This is the highest percentage achieved among the nation’s leading research universities in the history of our survey.

Enrollments in the Class of 2025


% Black
Columbia University151126417.5
Johns Hopkins University132620515.5
Vanderbilt University162623514.5
Brown University170724214.2
Princeton University129018014.0
Emory University150120513.7
Massachusetts Institute of Technology117815713.3
Cornell University371849013.2
University of Southern California366846112.6
Washington University198624412.3
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill468856912.1
University of Pennsylvania241829012.0
Yale University178921512.0
Northwestern University208625012.0
Tufts University180521011.6
Stanford University212624611.6
University of Chicago205320510.0
Dartmouth College122812210.0
Rice University12261209.8
University of Notre Dame20731979.5
University of Virginia38903438.8
Carnegie Mellon University18961528.0
Georgetown University16011267.9
Wake Forest University14421077.4
University of Michigan*68833094.5
California Institute of Technology270124.4
University of California, Berkeley69982753.9
Note: The numbers correspond to government figures and don't include biracial or African students.

Source: JBHE Research Department

Three years ago, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore had an entering class that was 11 percent Black. Last year, 13.9 percent of its entering class was Black, placing the university in fifth place in our survey. This year, Johns Hopkins is in the second spot with a first-year class that is 15.5 percent Black.

Four years ago, for the first time in the history of our survey, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, had the highest percentage of Black students in its entering class of any of the high-ranking research universities in our survey. There were 226 Black first-year students at Vanderbilt, making up 14.1 percent of the entering class. This year, Vanderbilt is in third place in the overall rankings with an entering class that is 14.5 percent Black. Vanderbilt held the third spot last year as well.

Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island moved up to fourth place this year after ranking ninth last year. The Black percentage of Brown’s entering class jumped from 11.8 percent to 14.2 percent.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has made huge progress over the past decade in increasing Black enrollment. For the class that entered in the fall of 2013, MIT ranked near the bottom of our survey. Since that time it has ranked as high as a tie for second and this year sits in the fifth position with an entering class that is 13.3 percent Black, nearly double what it was seven years earlier.

The progress of the Ivy League schools over the past decade in admitting Black students has been impressive. In 2006, Columbia University had the highest percentage of Black first-year students at 9.6 percent. If we assume Harvard’s entering class is at least 10 percent Black, this year, seven of the eight Ivy League schools have entering classes that are 10 percent Black or higher.

Two years ago, there were only six African American students in the entering class at the California Institute of Technology. They made up 2.5 percent of the first-year class. This year, there are 12 Black students making up 4.4 percent of the entering class.

The other two universities at the lower end of the rankings are public institutions in states that have laws prohibiting the consideration of race in college admissions. The University of California, Berkeley has an entering class that is 3.9 percent Black, up from 2.8 percent two years ago. The percentage of Black first-year students at Berkeley remains significantly below the level of Black enrollments that existed before that state enacted a ban on race-sensitive admissions.

The same is true at the University of Michigan. There, Blacks make up 4.5 percent of the students in the first-year class. The good news is that this is up from 3.4 percent a year ago.

A Note on Methodology

Before we continue with the results, it is important to mention how the U.S. Department of Education collects data on the race of undergraduates. Before a change was made several years ago, students who reported more than one race (including African American) were included in the figures for Black students. This is no longer the case. Thus, students who self-identify as biracial or multiracial with some level of African heritage are no longer classified as Black by the Department of Education.

JBHE surveys have always asked respondents to include all students who self-identify as having African American or African heritage including those who are actually from Africa. JBHE has always maintained that biracial, multiracial, and Black students from Africa add to the diversity of a college campus. And including these students in our figures offers college-bound Black students a better idea of what they can expect at a given college or university. In order that we can compare our current data to past JBHE surveys, we have continued to ask colleges and universities to include all students who identify themselves as having African American or African heritage. Those who conform to Department of Education guidelines and do not include foreign Black students or biracial students are indicated with an asterisk in the accompanying table.

One-Year Gainers and Losers in Black First-Year Enrollments at High-Ranking Research Universities

We have data on first-year enrollments of Black students at 25 high-ranking research universities for both 2020 and 2021. All but four showed increases in the number of Black students.

But this year’s data must be treated with some caution given the extraordinary circumstances faced by colleges and universities as a result of the pandemic. Overall enrollments were down at most schools in the 2020-21 academic year, and studies have shown that Black enrollments suffered to a greater degree than the overall student population. Also, many students who were scheduled to enroll in the fall of 2020, took a gap year to ride out the pandemic and enrolled instead this fall. For example, at Yale University, 330 students accepted into the class of 2024 deferred their matriculation until this year.

Six universities showed increases in Black first-year students of more than 40 percent. At Carnegie Mellon University, the number of Black students nearly doubled.

Don Blanchard at Notre Dame reports that the nearly 45 percent increase in Black first-year students at his university was in part, due to “an elevated effort in recruitment but also a very large expansion of financial aid funding. We have built a stronger aid budget into our annual plans and this allowed us to become even more active in the recruitment area.”

School20202021% Change
Carnegie Mellon University80152+90.0
Emory University133205+54.1
University of Southern California299461+54.1
Washington University159244+53.5
Tufts University141210+48.9
University of Notre Dame136197+44.9
University of Michigan235309+31.5
Cornell University380490+28.9
Columbia University209264+26.3
Northwestern University198250+26.3
Massachusetts Institute of Technology129157+21.7
Yale University178215+20.8
Rice University100120+20.0
University of California, Berkeley232275+18.5
Stanford University209246+17.7
Princeton University178180+17.7
Dartmouth College102122+16.4
Brown University208242+16.3
University of Pennsylvania251290+15.5
Johns Hopkins University180205+13.9
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill512569+11.1
University of Chicago185205+10.8
Vanderbilt University239235-1.7
University of Virginia364343-5.8
Georgetown University143126-11.9
Caution: Some colleges showing major drops in number of Black students may now only be reporting figures corresponding with U.S. Dept. of Education guidelines, whereas in the past, numbers may have included foreign Black and biracial students. Those showing major increases may be due to the inclusion of all students who identify as Black, whereas in the past the college may have only reported numbers corresponding to DOE classifications. Gains or losses could also simply be due to a change in the overall size of the entering class. This year, large increases may simply be due to the fact that overall enrollments were down in 2020 due to the pandemic and recovered this year. And many students in 2020 deferred enrollment for a year and enrolled this past fall making incoming classes unusually large

Source: JBHE Research Department

Black Student Acceptance Rates

As stated earlier, a majority of high-ranking research universities are now unwilling to disclose information on Black student acceptance rates. But we can compare acceptance rate data from 13 universities that did reply with our request for data.

School% of Total% of Blacks% Difference
Carnegie Mellon University13.523.2+9.7
University of Notre Dame15.124.6+9.5
University of Virginia20.728.5+7.8
Tufts University11.418.0+6.6
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill19.223.8+4.6
Brown University5.59.2+3.7
Johns Hopkins University6.410.0+3.6
University of Southern California12.515.4+2.9
Wake Forest University25.027.8+2.8
Rice University9.510.9+1.4
University of Pennsylvania5.96.9+1.0
Georgetown University11.912.4+0.5
University of California, Berkeley14.513.1-1.4
Source: JBHE Research Department

At 12 of the 13 universities that supplied acceptance rate data to JBHE, the Black student acceptance rate was higher than the acceptance rate for all students. In the past, the differences in acceptance rates at some universities were quite large. But now, the differences are usually very narrow. Again, this may reflect a concern over the threat of litigation if there is a perception that a particular racial or ethnic group is receiving an edge in the admissions process.

Four universities reported a Black student acceptance rate that was at least six percentage points higher than the rate for the entire applicant pool. At Brown University, which moved up in the rankings this year, the gap was 3.7 percentage points, but the Black acceptance rate was 1.7 times as high as the overall acceptance rate.

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  1. Does this report separate black student-athletes vs. black non student-athletes data at these schools? Black students who are not student-athletes have expressed that black student visibility is different when not a student-athlete. For example, if a school states they have a 10% black enrollment, then to a non-student athlete it may feel more like 5% based on their personal experience and academic path.

  2. Jah & Jahes love. This is great news! But, I’m very troubled by the fact that UC Berkeley admitted almost 7 thousand students but only 3.9 % are black! There is a problem with those numbers! The Black students will be overwhelmed and minoritized by the other groups and it could diminish their adaptability and success. Blessed love.#1804 #Ayiti #UCBerkekeyAlumni

  3. Do we have data on mentoring services that are available at individual institutions that are of service to ease the transition of newly enrolled students? This is so critical as a component of student success.

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