October 5, 1998
Volume 51, No. 7
Black enrollment ranking is encouraging, but not enough
When the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education recently ranked Emory first in the country among premier universities for African American enrollment, the news came as no surprise to many on campus.
After a slow start in enrolling black students--in 1980 just 3 percent of the Emory population were African American--the University gained ground quickly and in recent years has shared company with the University of Virginia at the top of the list. As reported in the summer issue of the Journal, 10.2 percent of Emory students are black, the most of any of the 25 highest-ranked universities and liberal arts colleges (UVA is second with 8.6 percent).
"By a large margin, Emory University in Atlanta posted the most spectacular gains," the article said. "As late as 1967, no African American had ever graduated from Emory. Since  Emory has made tremendous progress."
But while the numbers are encouraging, they also serve as a reminder that there is more to be done. According to Dean of Admission Dan Walls, while Emory does not have any "magic numbers or quotas" for black enrollment, its goal is for its student population to reflect the college-bound population as a whole, and the University is not quite there yet. The College Board breaks down the definition of America's college-bound population using those students who take the SAT as a measurement; this year 11 percent of college-bound students were black.
"If you look at Emory's enrollment over the last five years or so, roughly a fourth of our freshman class each year have been minority students," Walls said. "That's been a constant. So we certainly don't anticipate that number dropping--if anything, it may actually increase. The numbers of minority students in the college-bound population will continue to grow in the next five to 10 years."
Apart from its status as one the country's top institutions, Emory's location in Atlanta holds great appeal for African American students, as mentioned both in the Journal article and by Vera Rorie, director of the Office of Multicultural Services and Programs. "It's had a tremendous impact on our ability to attract African American students," she said. "We get a fairly large number of students who could go to the Ivy League and other schools, but Emory provides them with an opportunity to remain in the South and, in some ways, home."
Walls added that he is more concerned about the percentage of black students who are accepted at Emory and choose not to enroll than he is the total number on campus. Each year the University receives 1,000-1,200 applications from African American students, roughly half of whom are admitted. But just 122 of the Class of 2002 are black, up from only 84 the previous year.
"The return on our admit offers suggests the competition level out there is very, very keen, and it is," Walls said. "We're doing well--in terms of number of African American freshmen, we're getting our share. But the potential is there for the number to go up just based on the numbers we're seeing in our applicant pool and our admitted pool."
Rorie said the problem is easily identified. "Sometimes colleges can price themselves out so that there are populations of students who just can't afford to go there," she said. "So there are African American students who are very bright and can get full merit scholarships at other institutions, and they can't get that kind of funding at Emory.
"We have to be creative with our funding. There are other ways we can present our financial aid packaging so that we can help the families, especially middle-income families, of African American students. And it's the same problem with white students. Middle-income folks get crunched because they have a level of income that doesn't allow them to get a certain level of federal funding, therefore the burden of tuition is left with the family."