A Perspective on Diversity at UMass Amherst
Following national standards, the Amherst campus collects data on students who define themselves within governmentally established categories of race and ethnicity. These categories themselves have less analytical power today than when the government invented them because many students see themselves in more complex ways than can be captured by these groups. In particular, national data indicate that more students simply refuse to self identify within any of these categories because their racial and ethnic heritage is complex. Individuals of color may have Hispanic and Latino or Asian cultural backgrounds, and may find the official categories of Black, Hispanic, or Asian unsatisfactory. Nonetheless, these data are the best we have, and absent changes in the federally required reporting standards, we use them as indicators of our student body composition.
Over the past five years, the total of self-identified ALANA (African American, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander and Native American) students has fallen by about 10 students, and the composition of the ALANA population has changed. The Asian/Pacific Islander category has grown by 97 students while the Black, African-American and Hispanic-Latino categories have declined by 36 and 47 students respectively. The White, non-Hispanic population has grown by 725 students. These numbers indicate that the campus is less successful in recruiting Black, African-American and Hispanic-Latino students than Asian-Pacific Islanders and White, non-Hispanic students. The campus has also lost 19 American Indian-Alaska Native and five Cape Verdean students over these five years from its ALANA population totals.
Admission and Acceptance – If we look at the admission and acceptance data for the past three years, we can see some of the basis for our concerns. The acceptance rate for Black, African-American students (expressed as the percentage of those who applied that the campus accepted) rose from 42.4% in 2002, to 55.1% in 2003, to 63.8% in 2004. Similarly, for Hispanic-Latino students, the acceptance rate rose from 48.3% in 2002, to 76.1% in 2003, to 78.1% in 2004. Clearly, the campus has worked hard to ensure the admittance to campus of greater percentages of those minorities who apply. However, once admitted, the percentage of these students who enroll has declined over the same three years. For Black, African-American, the percent who enroll (out of the total admitted) declined from 38.7% in 2002, to 36.5% in 2003, to 29.4% in 2004. For Hispanic-Latino students, the acceptance rate remained more stable at 28.9% in 2002, 30.4% in 2003, and 30% in 2004. As a reference, the acceptance rate for White, non-Hispanic students also remained mostly stable with 27.9% in 2002, to 30.9% in 2003, to 29.9% in 2004.
These rates tell us that the campus does a good job of accepting students from the Black, African-American group and from the Hispanic-Latino group but is less successful in persuading accepted students to attend (including White, non-Hispanic students). Percentages do not tell the entire story, however. The absolute number of student admitted is also important here. For Black, African-American students, the number admitted increased from 390 in 2002, to 391 in 2003, to 442 in 2004. For Hispanic-Latino students, the number admitted increased from 350 in 2002, to 408 in 2003, to 513 in 2004. Clearly, these data suggest that our process of admission continues to recruit and admit about the same or a few more students from these groups, but has not done as well at persuading Black, African-American students to enroll as it does Hispanic-Latino or White, non-Hispanic, students.
Many reasons help explain why admitted students fail to accept admission. Some chose not to attend college, some cannot afford to attend a residential full-time institution and choose a community or state college closer to home, and some decide to enroll in institutions with less rigorous academic requirements. Some students seek particular contexts for their education: urban vs. rural, local vs. residential, research institution vs. undergraduate institution. It is difficult to determine exactly why students fail to enroll once admitted, but the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs has begun a program to determine what characteristics attract students to this campus as well as cause students to choose another campus.