Higher selectivity brings ‘ethnic shift’ in college population

by Grace

At CUNY, Stricter Admissions Bring Ethnic Shift

More than a decade after the City University of New York ended open admissions to its four-year colleges, a marked shift has occurred at its top institutions as freshman classes now enter with far better academic credentials and also a different demographic mix.

By “ethnic shift”, they mean more Asians and fewer Blacks and Hispanics

At the same time, black representation among first-time freshmen at those colleges dropped, to 10 percent last fall from 17 percent in 2001. Over the same period, the Hispanic share rose slightly for several years, then fell once the recession began, to 18 percent, while the white portion fell slightly, to 35 percent.

Asians are now entering the top colleges in the greatest numbers, composing 37 percent of those classes, up from 25 percent a decade earlier.


As expected, the CUNY colleges have risen in status but lost black and Hispanic students.  I’d like to know if any change in gender distribution has also occurred.

Public universities in other states have also become more selective, but any resultant “ethnic shift” is unclear.

Across the country, the most selective public colleges have been growing more so for decades, with many of them seeing a notable shift in the past few years. The share of entering freshmen who were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes rose to 73 percent last fall from 69 percent in 2007 at the University of Texas at Austin, to 57 percent from 49 percent at Binghamton University and to 80 percent from 76 percent at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to name a few.

“There is plenty of evidence that our flagship public universities have been growing more selective for 30 years, with a decided uptick in this recession,” said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Whether there has been a resulting demographic change is unclear, because most colleges have changed the way they record racial data, and in some states, new laws banning affirmative action have influenced enrollment.


For almost 30 years, beginning in 1970, CUNY admitted any high school graduate to at least one of its colleges, though that meant admitting many who needed remedial courses. Enrollment surged, graduation rates dropped, and more high-achieving students went elsewhere.

Pressed by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, CUNY’s senior colleges stopped accepting students who needed remedial work, and generally required applicants to meet minimum standards for SAT scores and other measures.

I first learned of CUNY’s poor reputation when I was working in the oil field back in the late 1980s and a newly hired geologist who had received his degrees from CUNY felt compelled to explain he graduated before the negative effects of the open enrollment policy took hold.  Without that explanation, his fellow New Yorkers working in the Texas oil business (and there were many) would have been inclined to look down their noses at his scientific expertise.  It’s sad to think that a school’s good reputation was harmed by this action, causing it to lose strong applicants who felt their education would suffer if they enrolled in their local public university.


One Comment to “Higher selectivity brings ‘ethnic shift’ in college population”

  1. “…any student who graduated from an in-state high school with a D average or better was admitted.”

    Oh dear. What a terrible waste of student time and taxpayer money.


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