There Is Little Racial Disparity in Student Acceptance Rates at Harvard

For the past 18 years, JBHE has conducted a survey of black first-year students at the nation’s highest-ranked liberal arts colleges and universities. In addition to enrollment figures we ask about the number of black students who apply to and are accepted at a given institution. A handful of the highest-ranking institutions, including Dartmouth, Stanford, and Duke, routinely decline to provide all the information requested by JBHE.

There may be any number of reasons why certain universities do not want to divulge particular statistics on their number of black applicants or admits. We have speculated that some institutions may not want to divulge their black student acceptance rate if that rate were considerably higher than the rate for white students. Such information might anger conservative alumni who are opposed to race-sensitive affirmative action. And a disgruntled alumnus or alumna may be less likely to donate money to the university.

Over the years, Harvard University has usually declined to divulge the number of black applicants to its entering class. Thus, we were unable to calculate if blacks were accepted to Harvard at a rate far greater than that for whites or other ethnic groups.

Harvard’s leadership and large numbers of its prominent faculty have voiced strong opinions in favor of race-based affirmative action. Some observers may have concluded that because Harvard has been a champion of affirmative action and also usually declines to divulge information on black applicants that the black acceptance rate would be significantly higher than the overall acceptance rate. But this is not the case, at least for 2010. The numbers released by Harvard this year show that acceptance rates for black and white students are almost identical. This year, Harvard accepted only 8.3 percent of its black applicants. This is only a slightly higher rate than for applicants as a whole.

There are 155 black first-year students at Harvard this fall. They make up 9.3 percent of all Harvard freshmen.