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 30th 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.

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 20 high-ranked universities for which we have data that have an entering class that is more than 10 percent Black. This year there are 15 high-ranking universities that have an entering class that is at least 12 percent Black. Two years 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 rates 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 rates. In some instances, there were vast differences between Black student acceptance rates and overall acceptance rates. Now, less than one half of the major research universities are willing to make this data public.

Several years ago, Harvard University told JBHE that it would no longer participate in our survey. In December 2021, 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.

One major research university that had declined to provide this information in the past, included acceptance rate information in this year’s response but then requested that JBHE not publish the information. The data showed that the Black acceptance rate was more than double the overall acceptance rate. Realizing that universities are very sensitive on this issue, we complied with the request not to include the information. Again, we do not infer that universities that choose not to provide acceptance rate data typically have significant gaps between their Black acceptance rates and their overall acceptance rates. Several leading universities that have been very successful in achieving a high degree of diversity in their entering classes – including Columbia, Johns Hopkins, and Brown – all have acceptance rates for Blacks that are very close to their overall acceptance rates.

Undoubtedly, the recent litigation involving the admissions practices of Harvard University concerning Asian American students – that will be decided by the Supreme Court later this year – 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.

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 2026

For nine years in a row, Columbia had the highest percentage of Black first-year students among the highest-ranking universities in the nation. Five 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 2021 Columbia was once again on top with an entering class that was 17.5 percent Black. This is the highest percentage achieved among the nation’s leading research universities in the history of our survey. This year there are 238 Black students in the entering class at Columbia. They make up 16.4 percent of the Class of 2026.

Four years ago, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore had an entering class that was 11 percent Black. In 2020, 13.9 percent of its entering class was Black, placing the university in fifth place in our survey.  A year ago, Johns Hopkins was in the second spot with a first-year class that was 15.5 percent Black. Now 16.4 percent of first-year students at Johns Hopkins are Black, tying the university with Columbia for the top spot in our rankings. (Technically Johns Hopkins has a slightly higher percentage of Blacks in its first-year class, 16.41 to 16.35 for Columbia).

Enrollments in the Class of 2026


School
Total
Enrollment
Black
Enrollment

% Black
Johns Hopkins University131021516.4
Columbia University145523816.4
Brown University171725915.1
Harvard University164723714.4
University of Chicago172924214.0
Vanderbilt University161922313.8
Princeton University149920613.7
University of Pennsylvania241533213.7
Northwestern University203927313.4
Emory University142419113.4
Duke University173822613.0
Yale University155720213.0
Massachusetts Institute of Technology113614412.7
Cornell University349143212.4
Washington University181522112.2
Dartmouth College112513512.0
University of Southern California342038111.1
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill444047810.8
University of Virginia403043510.8
Tufts University169517910.6
Rice University*120312810.6
University of Notre Dame20371949.5
Wake Forest University13751218.8
University of California, Los Angeles*64624807.4
Stanford University17821307.3
Carnegie Mellon University17161257.3
Georgetown University15871167.3
University of Michigan*55943636.5
California Institute of Technology235125.0
Note: Colleges are ranked by the highest percentage of Black first-year students.
Some information obtained from public sources.
*Foreign students not included. (See text.)

Source: JBHE Research Department

Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, moved up to fourth place a year ago after ranking ninth in 2020. This year the Black percentage of Brown’s entering class has increased to 15.1 percent, the third highest in our survey.

As stated earlier, Harvard University, the subject of the current case before the Supreme Court, has not participated in the JBHE Annual Survey in recent years. But the university publicly reported that 14.4 percent of its entering class is Black. The University of Chicago holds the fifth spot in our survey with an entering class that is 14 percent Black. A year ago, 10 percent of the entering class was Black.

Five 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 sixth place in the overall rankings with an entering class that is 13.8 percent Black. Vanderbilt held the third spot last year.

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 a year ago was in the fifth position with an entering class that was 13.3 percent Black. This year 12.7 percent of entering class at MIT is Black. Three 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. A year ago, there were 12 Black students making up 4.4 percent of the entering class. This year, Blacks are 5 percent of the entering class

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. This year, all eight Ivy League schools have entering classes that are 12 percent Black or higher.

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 2021 and 2022. There were 14 universities with fewer Black students in their entering class than in 2021 and 11 that showed an increase.

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 the next fall. For example, at Yale University, 330 students accepted into the class of 2024 deferred their matriculation until the Class of 2025. So the Class of 2025 was abnormally large and therefore it was expected that many universities were would have lower numbers of Black entering students this fall.

That was not the case at Princeton University. There are 206 Black students in this year’s entering class, compared to 108 a year ago. But the overall entering class was 1,290 in 2021 and almost 1,500 this year.

At the University of Virginia, the number of Black students in the entering class was 343 a year ago and 435 this year. But the overall class size was also significantly higher. But the university also boosted its percentage of Black entering students from 8.8 percent to 10.8 percent.

Stanford University showed a major drop in Black first-year students. But the overall size of the entering class decreased from 2,126 a year ago to 1,728 this year. Also, the Black percentage of first-year students dropped from 11.6 percent a year ago to 7.3 percent this year.

School20212022% Change
Princeton University108206+90.7
University of Virginia343435+26.8
University of Chicago205242+18.0
University of Michigan309363+17.5
University of Pennsylvania290332+14.5
Wake Forest University107121+13.1
Northwestern University250273+9.2
Dartmouth College122135+8.3
Brown University242259+7.0
Rice University120128+6.7
Johns Hopkins University205215+4.9
University of Notre Dame197194-1.5
Vanderbilt University235223-5.1
Yale University215202-6.0
Emory University205205-6.8
Georgetown University126116-7.9
Massachusetts Institute of Technology157144-8.3
Washington University244221-9.4
Columbia University264238-9.8
Cornell University490432-11.8
Tufts University210179-14.8
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill569478-16.0
University of Southern California461381-17.4
Carnegie Mellon University152125-17.8
Stanford University246130-47.2
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, decreases may simply be due to the fact that overall first-year enrollments were higher in 2021 as students returned to higher education after the pandemic. Many students in 2020 deferred enrollment for a year and enrolled in 2021 making incoming classes unusually large that year at some universities.

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. This is the same number that responded a year ago.

School% of Total% of Blacks% Difference
Wake Forest University21.436.7+15.3
University of Virginia18.729.3+10.6
Carnegie Mellon University11.314.1+2.8
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill16.819.5+2.7
Brown University5.17.8+2.7
Emory University11.414.1+2.7
Rice University8.710.9+2.2
Johns Hopkins University6.58.5+2.0
University of Southern California12.114.1+2.0
University of Pennsylvania6.58.2+1.7
University of California, Los Angeles8.610.0+1.4
Columbia University3.74.5+0.8
Georgetown University12.211.2-1.0
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.

Wake Forest University had a Black acceptance rate that was more than 15 percentage points higher than the rate for the overall applicant pool. A year ago, the difference was just 2.8 percentage points. The Black percentage of the first-year class was 7.4 percent a year ago and 8.8 percent this year. At the University of Virginia, the acceptance rate for Black students was 10.6 percentage points higher than the rate for the overall applicant pool. A year ago, Blacks enjoyed an acceptance rate that was 7.8 percentage points higher. The Black percentage of the entering class was 10.8 percent this year, up from 8.8 percent a year ago. At all other universities reporting, the differences in acceptance rates were very small.

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