Study Finds That Blacks Are Shown in Colleges’ Promotional Photographs Far More Often Than the Actual Percentage of Black Students on Campus

Almost all colleges and universities are now taking steps to recruit black and other minority students. Some go to great lengths to make their campuses appear welcoming. In 2000 the University of Wisconsin airbrushed a photograph of a black student into a brochure showing a group of students at a university football game. The original photograph pictured only white students.

This highly publicized embarrassment to the University of Wisconsin gave Timothy D. Pippert, a sociologist at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, an idea for an interesting research project. He and his research team examined promotional photographs from 371 predominantly white colleges and universities across the nation and attempted, when possible, to assign a race to each student pictured. Black students made up 7.9 percent of the students at all the colleges in their study. But blacks were at least 12.4 percent of the students pictured in promotional materials.

Pippert believes the colleges are not trying to distort the racial makeup of their student bodies to prospective students. Actual racial diversity numbers are readily available from the Department of Education. Rather, Pippert believes the colleges are showing a disproportionate number of black students in order to convey to prospective students that they are welcome on campus.

Pippert told JBHE that at this time they were not prepared to publish data on individual colleges and universities. However, he notes that there were some institutions where the percentage of black students in promotional brochures far exceeded the percentage of blacks in the student body. He also told JBHE that there were some colleges and universities that showed significantly fewer blacks and other minority students than their actual percentages in the student body.

Professor Pippert and his coauthor Edward J. Matchett are planning an analysis to determine if there are any differences in their findings between private and public institutions of higher learning.