A more diverse freshman class doesn’t necessarily mean diversity across the board.
The University of California admitted its largest and most diverse freshman body ever for the upcoming fall quarter, with a total of 108,178 students across nine UCs. Not only are there more students than last year, but there are 991 more who come from underrepresented groups.
Increasing the percentage of marginalized, first-generation or low-income students within higher education is an accomplishment worth celebrating – and one the UC is rightfully touting.
But when only 5% and 0.5% of these newly admitted and widely diverse admits identify as African American and Native American students, respectively, the UC should question whether enough is being done to uplift all ranges of underrepresented students.
On average, universities across the country have first-year acceptance rates that are reflective of the national percentage for that racial or ethnic group. Yet African Americans and Native Americans constitute about 13% and 1.3% of the national population – meaning the dismal number of many minority admits doesn’t come close to doing their populations justice within the UC.
And this isn’t a new issue.
The UC has been reporting low admit rates for some student groups since 1996, when Proposition 209 banned public universities from considering race in the admissions process.
And with systemic barriers such as lack of support, resources, financial aid and representation, students of color have long been isolated from academia.
In fact, a UC study from 2016 found that many African American students who were admitted to UC campuses chose to enroll at other colleges when they considered the lack of diversity, high costs and lack of outreach efforts.
Although the percentage of African American students admitted has actually gone up in recent years, the fact remains – students don’t want to attend a campus where they feel unrepresented.
And higher admit rates are only the beginning.
In order to build and uplift a diverse student body, the UC must lay a foundation where underrepresented students can succeed. African American students at the UC have a lower graduation rate than white students, largely because students don’t engage as much when they feel unwelcome in the classroom, according to the Campaign for College Opportunity.
Yes, the diversity in this year’s freshman class is an improvement. But it holds little indication that those admitted will be thoroughly represented in their undergraduate careers – much less supported.
And that lack of representation permeates the UC on many levels.
With only 3% of tenured faculty in the UC being African American, it is no wonder minority groups do not see their future in the UC – they don’t see themselves reflected in higher education in the first place.
The UC clearly knows that there aren’t enough underrepresented students, why they’re not enrolled and the reasons they might struggle in college. But it has done little to deliver on promises of a diverse campus that reflects the national population as a whole.
From the viral Black Bruins spoken word poem a few years ago to the Afrikan Student Union demand for a black student resource center at UCLA earlier this year, it’s clear that underrepresented students want to be heard.
Surely, small steps in the right direction are better than none.
But it’s not enough to get a foot in the door when there aren’t enough seats at the table inside.