Last month, an article appeared in a national publication raising concerns about the steady decline of black and Latino freshmen entering City University of New York’s (CUNY) top tier colleges. The Atlantic Monthly article’s original headline read: “When high achievers have no place to go: Star students from immigrant and minority families often find themselves locked out of the City University of New York — a system originally designed just for them.”
CUNY, an institution that does not take kindly to criticism, vigorously attacked the article. In doing so, they hoped to divert attention away an admissions policy that is at odds with the public university’s stated mission. That mission, generally speaking, is to provide access to high-quality education opportunities for disenfranchised and marginalized populations in our city.
Let’s review what the article was about: a major drop in enrollment of black and Latino freshmen in selective senior colleges, largely due to a heavy reliance on SAT scores, an assessment that is increasingly out of favor at top colleges around the country
A 2012 report by my organization documented this trend which has continued to worsen. The only problem with The Atlantic article was it did not report that one of the students profiled in the story was admitted into two CUNY senior colleges.
When this came to light, The Atlantic made edits and corrections to the original story and removed the information on the student. But the damage was done. CUNY pounced on the error as a way to discredit the entire story, including making the preposterous suggestion that my organization funded it.
CUNY’s public relations offensive, however, could not undo the story’s basic premise. Namely, that blacks and Latinos are a small and shrinking presence at CUNY’s most selective schools. This fact, backed by data, was never in dispute.
CUNY Should Present Data and Evidence on Admission Process
In its responses to the article, CUNY claims that it looks at more than just SAT scores in its admissions policy. But regardless of the specifics of the admissions process, average SAT scores have risen at the selective schools, which all increased their minimum SAT requirements in recent years (although those requirements have even more recently disappeared from most of the colleges’ Websites).
There is a simple way for CUNY to address the concerns expressed by wide range of stakeholders, including those quoted in The Atlantic article. CUNY should present data and evidence for how its admissions policies consider a range of factors of student achievement, especially for those applicants who come from under-resourced families and high schools, from all corners of New York City.
CUNY represents New York City, and is the natural pathway for the city’s public high school students, 70 percent of whom are Black and Latino. As such, the student population of its colleges, even the top ones, should better reflect the diversity of the city and the public high schools.
The point in all of this is not about proving that one side is right or wrong. Our goal in this work, which we hope one day to share with CUNY, is that top students should get an opportunity to attend our best public colleges, even when they did not enjoy the same opportunities in preparation for doing so. So we want to be as rigorous as possible in making sure our best public institutions are sensitive to the inequalities that surround us, and give all students a truly fair shake.
Rather than sniping about where one student may have been admitted, we think that CUNY should sit down with stakeholders to address the undeniable evidence that major changes at its top colleges are preventing qualified students from attending its best schools. The fact remains that Harvard College admits a considerably higher percentage of black freshmen than Baruch College (11.2 percent vs. 8.5 percent), despite the latter being a public institution, drawing largely from public high school students, in a highly diverse catchment area. Until we deal with facts like these, we are missing the forest for the trees.