As a follow-up to our 2020 report that looked at Black and Latino students’ underrepresentation at the nation’s public universities, Ed Trust researchers this time looked at Black student enrollment in 2000 and 2020 at some of the nation’s most selective private colleges and universities relative to the demographics of Black residents (ages 18-24) in the states from which first-time students came.

Download the Executive Summary

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The findings aren’t encouraging. While the share of Black student enrollment grew at nearly 3 in 4 of selective colleges and universities between 2000 and 2020, enrollment wasn’t representative of the demographics of the states from which students came. While parity isn’t the ultimate goal, it is the most reliable benchmark for comparison based on available data at the time of our analysis.

Unpacking Elite College Access & Accessibility

While nearly 74% of the selective, private colleges and universities in our sample have increased their Black undergraduate student enrollment since 2000, our findings show that these increases were slight, and that overall, little progress has been made. The lingering underrepresentation of Black students at these colleges is very concerning, especially in light of the Supreme Court ban on affirmative action in college admissions. We have already seen the detrimental impact of affirmative action bans in states like California, where Black student enrollment plummeted following the adoption of Proposition 209 in 1996.

Additionally, research shows that boosting racial and ethnic diversity has a positive effect on campus racial climate and student success in college, so making these institutions more accessible for Black students would benefit all students. And yet, the overwhelming majority of the nation’s most selective private colleges and universities remain inaccessible for Black first-time, full-time undergraduate students.

Our Findings

Even though Black undergraduate student enrollment increased at 74% of the 122 most selective four-year private colleges and universities in the U.S. from 2000 to 2020, a similar percentage of institutions (71%) received failing grades for Black student access in 2020.

  • The average increase among the nearly three-quarters of selective colleges that grew their Black undergraduate student enrollment from 2000 to 2020, 2.3 percentage points, was lower than the average decrease of 3.7 percentage points among the 26% of institutions where Black undergraduate student enrollment declined between the two years.
  • All eight Ivy League institutions earned D or F grades for Black student access in 2000 and 2020 — earning an average score of 45.1% in 2000, and 52% in 2020.
  • Not surprisingly, in 2000 and 2020, most of the colleges and universities with the highest Black student access scores were predominantly Black institutions (PBIs) or historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which were established specifically to serve Black students.
    • In 2000, 6 of the top 10 Black student access scores were held by HBCUs or PBIs.
    • In 2020, 7 of the top 10 Black student access scores were held by HBCUs or PBIs.

What’s more, many of these selective private institutions have some of largest endowments of all degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the U.S., which suggests that limited fiscal resources are not to blame for the continued underrepresentation of Black undergraduates among first-time, full-time enrollees. That said, financial resources alone will not be enough to move the needle in a higher education system that was built on racism, oppression, and white supremacy. Higher education leaders and policymakers must work intentionally to expand access and be held more accountable.

Our Recommendations

Here are four actions education leaders and policymakers can take to ensure that more Black students have a chance to attend selective private colleges and universities:

  1. Develop recruitment strategies that increase access
  2. Assess and improve campus racial climates
  3. Leverage federal accountability
  4. Increase accountability from accreditors and accreditation organizations

Download the report to learn more.