Fewer blacks begin college

Nationally, the number of incoming black students is decreasing.

Cati Vanden Breul

Public universities across the country, including the University, are seeing a decline in the enrollment of black first-year students, according to a Boston Globe article last week.

The number of incoming black students at the University of Michigan is at a 15-year low, even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that the institution could continue using race as a factor in admitting students, according to the article.

At the University of Minnesota, black students make up 18.4 percent of this year’s first-year class, opposed to 20.8 percent in 2003, according to Institutional Research and Reporting.

University of Minnesota African-American and African studies professor John Wright said he was not surprised at the national decline.

“I don’t think the reasons are very mysterious,” Wright said.

He said he thinks the increasing cost of education is making it harder for black students to come to college.

“The policies put an increasing burden on middle-class

and working-class families,” Wright said. “Most African-American (college) students are still first-generation students from working-class families. It’s an inevitable consequence.”

As college becomes more difficult for everyone to afford, black families are disproportionately affected, Wright said.

Kristopher Carver, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, a black fraternity, said he can understand why enrollment of black first-year students is low at the University of Minnesota.

“I think here it has a lot to do with the fact that there is not a large black population,” he said.

Carver, an electrical engineering senior, said he went to an all-black university before transferring here because it was cheaper.

“Students feel more comfortable when they can find a sense of their own people,” Carver said.

He said it can be hard to be a black student at the University of Minnesota.

“There are times where I wished I felt I was more paid attention to,” Carver said. “It’s such a big school. You already have a strike against you – as a minority it’s even worse.”

But Carver said coming to the University of Minnesota was one of the best decisions he has ever made and he is trying to do his part to get more black students to go here.

“One good way to address the problem is to get minority students more involved in recruiting minority students,” Carver said.

He said his fraternity gives tours to prospective students.

“It’s comforting to come to campus and see people more like you,” Carver said.

The University of Minnesota experienced a smaller decline in incoming black first-year students than many other public institutions, said Wayne Sigler, Office of Admissions director.

The number of black first-year students at the University decreased less than 1 percent, from 285 students in 2003 to 267 students in 2004.

In comparison, the Boston Globe reported this week that enrollment of black first-year students fell 26 percent at the University of Georgia, 29 percent at The Ohio State University and 32 percent at the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois.

But Sigler said the University of Minnesota is still disappointed with the decline.

“I’m not saying we’ve done enough. Any drop is not acceptable. We take no comfort that it’s a national issue,” Sigler said. “But it’s certainly not limited just to Minnesota.”

Sigler said one reason enrollment is declining nationally is that the pool of qualified black applicants is getting smaller.

Many black high school students do not get the same opportunities as nonminority students, he said.

“The problem is not a student problem; it’s more of a social and economic issue,” Sigler said.

Improving the quality of education for black K-12 students is a must, Sigler said, if the state wants more black students to be prepared for the University of Minnesota after high school.

Sigler said the increase in tuition and the decrease in state funding has also hurt minority students.

The University of Minnesota gives the lowest percentage of merit-based scholarships to first-year students of any university in the country, Sigler said.

“Competition for students of color is intense,” he said. “We may be losing strong students to other states and universities of color.”

Sigler said the University of Minnesota will continue to work hard to enhance diversity on campus.

“But some factors are beyond our control,” he said.