At Many Top-Ranked Universities, Black Student Acceptance Rates Remain a Well-Guarded Mystery

It is well recognized that the percentage of black applicants who actually receive invitations to join a university’s freshman class is a valuable gauge of an institution’s commitment to racial diversity. Yet this figure is regarded as the most sensitive of all admissions data. This is particularly true for some of the very highest ranked institutions. Of the 30 highest-ranked universities that responded to JBHE’s 2010 survey, 10 declined to reveal their black acceptance rates. 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 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 among alumni 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.

But, at the same time, it is critical to keep in mind that an institution’s high black acceptance rate often indicates nothing more than the fact that the admissions office of a given institution had a very strong and well-qualified black applicant pool in that particular year.

At 12 of the 20 universities that supplied acceptance rate data to JBHE, the black student acceptance rate was higher than the acceptance rate for all students. In some cases the differences were substantial. For instance, at the University of Virginia the black student acceptance rate of 41 percent was significantly higher than the 32 percent acceptance rate for all applicants. At Tufts University 38 percent of black students were accepted compared to 24.4 percent of all applicants.

Eight of the high-ranking universities we surveyed had black acceptance rates that were in fact lower than the overall acceptance rate. At the University of California at Berkeley and the University of California at Los Angeles, both of which were prohibited from taking race into account during the 2010 admissions process, the black acceptance rate was significantly below the rate for all accepted students.

The black acceptance rate was also lower than the overall rate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Emory University, the University of Southern California, Northwestern University, Washington University, and Wake Forest University.