Elite U.S. Colleges Will Welcome Their Most Diverse Student Body in History

Elite U.S. Colleges Will Welcome Their Most Diverse Student Body in History

The incoming class of college students at many of the top colleges in the United States is set to be the most diverse in history. According to a recent article in the New York Times, “early data suggests that many elite universities have admitted a higher proportion of traditionally underrepresented students this year — Black, Hispanic and those who were from lower-income communities or were the first generation in their families to go to college, or some combination — than ever before.”

Anemona Hartocollis notes in her article that one incoming freshman, Jianna Curbelo, said that she feels like the times are changing. Our country’s renewed focus on racial justice and the value of diversity, as well as Cornell University’s decision to pause its standardized test score requirement, inspired her to apply to Cornell, where she was accepted.

A study from the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that ending SAT and ACT requirements resulted in more diversity and more applications. That same study also found that minority students were almost twice as likely to opt to not submit test scores, compared to white students. 

More Diverse Students Are Applying to All Colleges

Curbelo’s story is not unique, as top schools across the country saw a record number of applications from students of color this past year. Another student, Jayden Cocklin, decided in middle school that he wanted to attend Harvard. He said that his identity as an African-American man played a role in his decision to apply, saying: “It was just another thing driving me to go to Harvard and prove everyone wrong, and defy the common stereotype placed upon so many African-American males today.”

In the last year, the number of Black, Hispanic, and Asian applications to all colleges in the U.S. increased slightly more than white students on average. And at University of California, Los Angeles, applications for next year’s class rose 28% overall, and were up 48% for African American students and 33% for Hispanic students.

The number of students of color attending college has risen steadily over the last couple decades, according to a study from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU). The number of undergraduate students of color jumped from just 29.6% in 1996, to 45.2% in 2016.

College Students of Color Are More Likely to Face Additional Hurdles, Compared to White Counterparts

Robert F. Smith, a graduate of both Cornell and Columbia Universities, knows that getting accepted to a college is often just the first hurdle. Financing a college education while excelling in college is another challenge altogether. Students of color are more likely to be saddled with high levels of student loan debt, and are more likely to be forced to take on debt with higher interest rates.

To help alleviate this debt burden, and make college more affordable for students of color, Smith created Student Freedom Initiative, which aims to reduce debt from student loans among students studying STEM programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). When the initiative launched, Smith noted that  “the $1.6 trillion student debt crisis in our country is a human rights crisis. The Initiative is purposefully built to redress historic economic and social inequities and to offer a sustainable, scalable platform to invest in the education of future Black leaders.”

But barriers to success don’t stop there. Students of color are also less likely to get paid internship opportunities. As Smith points out in a 2020 interview with the Thirty Percent Coalition, a group advocating for increased diversity on corporate boards, “a lot of the outcomes are a function of the experiences that people have.” He continues, “I think a big part about what I think about is how do I ensure that I create as many on ramps of opportunity to people from the African American and other minority communities into the worlds that I think will be sustainable for increasing their opportunities.”

The Fund II Foundation’s program, internX, is working to eliminate this barrier to career success as well, by connecting employers in the tech field with a highly-qualified and diverse set of applicants — many of which are students of color — with career “on ramps,” as he puts it. Smith is founding director and President of the Fund II Foundation.

There is not a simple solution to helping more students of color graduate from college and achieve their full potential, however, with help from colleges, nonprofits and the public sector, it’s more possible than ever for all students to reach their full potential. Read about Smith’s support of The 2% Solution, and how bridging important racial gaps like in education are possible with an investment from the country’s top corporations.