The U.S. higher education system needs to better represent minority students.

As U.S. News recently released their 2018 Best Colleges List, the issue of minority representation at selective colleges has on my mind a bit more than usual. I wasn’t surprised to find that diversity of student population, minority representation (whatever you want to call it) is not a factor in their ranking methodology.

I was surprised, however, to find out (via a recent New York Times report spanning 1980 - 2015) that black and Hispanic first-year students are more underrepresented at selective colleges and universities than than they were in 1980, over 30 years ago. 

The numbers underscore how underrepresented minority groups are on campuses.

Among the eight schools that make up the Ivy League, black students make up 9 percent of all first-years, while they account for 15 percent of college-age Americans. Hispanic students make up a larger percentage of first-years (15 percent), but account for 22 percent of college age Americans, making the gap slightly larger at 7 points. Numbers are similar among liberal arts schools and other top public and private institutions.

In the case of our beloved UNC, we have somewhat of an anomaly. Hispanic first-year students made up 0 percent in 1980. In the over 30 years since, that number has risen to eight percent. In comparison to many of our peer institutions, that number is amazing. 

In regards to black students, however, we are less represented now than in 1980. At that time, black students made up 11 percent of first-year students. As of 2015, black students made up 8 percent of first-year students. 

Considering the incoming first-year class of 2016, that number rose to 11. For an institution that prides itself on diversity and inclusion, why is this number the same as it was over 30 years ago? Especially considering that number rose to as high as 13 percent in 1988, 1994 and 2006. 

Retention and graduation rates for black and Hispanic students are generally lower than their white counterparts, both at selective and nonselective institutions. Nationally, 38 percent of black students complete undergraduate degrees in six years, while white students do so at a rate of 62 percent. 

If you follow higher education trends, those numbers aren’t shocking. We’ve known for a while that our colleges and universities don’t do a good job of retaining black students. 

But that then begs this question: If our universities can’t (or won’t) bring more black students in as first-years, and can’t retain the black students already there, what does that say about our institutions of higher education? What does that say about the leaders of these institutions?

Given our current executive branch in the federal government, it’s clear that we can expect nothing positive to come from the Department of Education for students of color in higher education. 

Because of that reality, it is imperative that our institutions do more to ensure that underrepresented students can not only enroll, but persist and ultimately graduate from the nation’s top universities. 

Thanks for reading.

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