Southern appeal on the rise
May 31, 2004 9:00 p.m.
Problems the University of California has had in enrolling black
students may be aggravated by a “reverse migration”
trend that is drawing many black families out of places such as
California and bringing them to the South.
A study undertaken by the Brookings Institute last week found
that an increased number of black professionals are moving away
from Western, Northern and Eastern states and are moving into
Brookings researchers have called this move a “reverse
migration” because in the early 20th century, many black
families decided to move out of Southern states and settle in other
areas, a trend known as the Great Migration.
The Brookings Institute is an independent, non-partisan
organization dedicated to research analysis.
“The South is really being viewed by many as a kind of a
new Mecca, a land of opportunity,” said Charles Christian,
professor of urban and social population geography at the
University of Maryland, College Park.
“They see the South as a place where their children can
grow up in safer communities and attend better schools,” he
This emphasis on Southern schools makes some scholars express
concern over the projected decline in the number of black students
in colleges and universities in states such as California.
The amount of black students in many public universities around
the country, including the UC, is already considered alarmingly
According to a study conducted last month by the UCLA Ralph J.
Bunche Center for African American Studies, the number of black
freshmen admitted to UCLA has been declining.
The study found that UCLA admitted 470 in-state black freshmen
in 1997, but by fall 2004, these admissions declined by 58 percent
to 199 admits.
UC-wide enrollment figures show a slightly more positive trend,
with enrollment for black students increasing by 5 percent in
But this increase translates to a little above 4,500 students, a
relatively low number when compared to the over 159,000
undergraduates who attend the UC and the over 2 million black
residents in California.
This low number of black students may continue to decline
partially due to reverse migration.
“A lot of state universities recruit students from inside
the state, which would mean less students if some of them move
away,” said William Fry, author of the Brookings Institute
study and a fellow at the Institute.
Former UCLA Professor Jim Johnson, an expert on reverse
migration, counts himself as part of the reverse migration
He moved to North Carolina from California a few years ago to
take care of his grandmother.
Johnson, who is currently a business professor at the University
of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said the quality of public
education in non-Southern states plays a big role in the decision
of many blacks to move.
“As the public school system deteriorates, people will
begin to move with their feet,” Johnson said.
A combination of factors, including the perceived deterioration
of public education in non-Southern states, the tendency of
students to attend educational institutions close to their home
states, and the increasing appeal of traditionally black
universities in the South, may lead to fewer black students
attending higher education institutions in non-Southern states.
“I think it is a mixed bag there. African American
students have traditionally gone to schools mostly within the areas
in which they live, and this trend will continue,” Christian
“But I also think that in the South a lot of schools are
getting better, and the black college-age students who are moving
there are surely taking it into consideration,” he added.
Traditional black colleges in the South have also been gaining
in appeal to black students, attracting them away from schools
outside the South.
“A lot of black kids matriculate to traditionally black
colleges, especially in the South,” Johnson said.
The Brookings Institute study also found that while the black
migration to the South consists of people from all income levels,
professionals are moving away at slightly higher numbers.
“Clearly the North and the Midwest have to be concerned.
What is happening is very similar to a brain-drain,”
Christian defined the brain-drain phenomenon in the migration
context as “the depletion of a relatively wealthy population
that continues to move out of non-Southern areas.”
Because research has indicated that a child of college-educated
parents would most likely also pursue higher education, this
migration by college-educated, upper- and middle-class blacks is
another possible indicator for the projected reduction in black
college students in non-Southern states.
“Colleges will clearly have to be more competitive to
retain students,” Christian said. “After all, as the
large wealthy African American populations will continue to move to
the South, I suspect they will start to look at Southern higher
While education plays an important role in the reasons for black
reverse migration, the Brookings study indicated some other factors
“Except for economic and education reasons, the South has
an additional appeal for African Americans,” Fry said.
“Because of the history of the black population, the South is
a more familiar territory.”
He added that while non-Southern states will be heavily impacted
by the migration trends, the South will ultimately be the most
“It will change the social fabric and politics in the
South,” Fry said.