Black student enrollment decreases for class of 2021

Dorian DeBose | Contributing Reporter

Black student enrollment at Washington University fell from 12.4 percent to 11 percent this year as reported in The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education’s annual survey of black first-year students at leading research universities.

The black student yield indicates the percentage of accepted black students who decide to enroll at a university. Washington University’s black student yield fell from 36.1 percent to 30.8 percent between the 2017-2018 and 2016-2017 academic year. The University was one of only three schools surveyed to post a decline of more than 10 percent in black students in their first-year classes.

The result represents an improvement from 2014, when the University had the third lowest yield amongst listed institutions but did not show the growth that many in the community hoped would continue. Vice Provost of Admissions Ronne Turner attributed this decline to volatility, due to competition amongst elite colleges for students of color.

“When I talk about the volatility, the difference between 10 or 20 students, that accounts for the volatility,” Turner said. “I think for any higher predominantly white institution, because the numbers are not where every student wants them to be, and people are competing for students, there can be some swings.”

The study indicated that Washington University continues to admit black students at a higher rate than many peer institutions, with a rate of 25 percent. The University also admitted more black students this year than compared to the year before—636 compared to 612.

According to Turner, the University is focusing on retention.

“We’re trying to create more opportunities to visit campus. We fly in students, and we host them,” Turner said. “We also have events during these programs to help students experience Wash. U. We have traditionally always had the celebration weekend, and that’s been a good weekend. This year we’re expanding it a bit, offering it on two weekends for students who don’t have the opportunity to come on one weekend.”

In addition to expanding existing programs, the admissions office is also attempting to start new initiatives to encourage more black students to come to the University.

“We’re adding other [programs] on campus where we’re trying to get students and parents to come. We’re obviously aiming at underrepresented students for our programs,” Turner said. “We have also begun to bring Wash. U. to students in a formal way with admitted students receptions where we will bring staff members to these, and we’ll have events with recent alums to help students and their families learn more about Wash. U. Hopefully, if they’re excited about what they hear at the admitted student events, we can get them come take a closer look.”

Despite the increase in black student enrollment when compared with a few years ago and the University’s ongoing efforts, some students of color believe the culture is exclusionary and that it contributes to black students’ decisions to go elsewhere.

“It’s hard to be black at Wash. U because of those social barriers,” freshman Nia Plump said. “There’s always a part of you that feels like you don’t actually belong here. I don’t know if that’s something that happens because students choose to stick to their race groups or because this institution is a [predominantly white institution], and a lot of things that happen here are founded by white people. The way that Wash. U is set up is not for you.”

Missouri politics may have an additional impact on the decision of black students to attend the University.

“A couple weeks before initially moving in, there was a travel advisory put out by the NAACP that warned black people and women against travelling to Missouri given the recent legislation that basically allows discrimination on the basis of race and gender,” freshman Alexis Walker said. “My parents weren’t necessarily on board with me going to St. Louis in part… because of everything that’s been going on with the Black Lives Matter movement and Ferguson a few years ago, and recently with the [Jason] Stockley verdict a couple months ago.”

According to Turner, improving the numbers will take more than a targeted effort by the administration. She believes that demonstrating that the culture of the University is accessible to incoming black students is something the current student body has the capacity to do.

“Wash. U. students—from my experience—if you ask for help, students will say, ‘I can point you in that direction or walk you somewhere,’” Turner said. “They’ll smile at someone when [they] see someone on a tour. They want to give a good impression, and that encourages students to find out more. Your smiling is not going to be the reason why someone comes, but the fact that our entire campus culture is warm and welcoming, even with our challenges, our campus is of that nature. I encourage students to take pride in that.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect that the statistics are for the class of 2021, not for the current admissions cycle.