The following report is part of a collaboration between NBCNews.com And hechinger report Focused on examining Black and Latino enrollment at major universities.
Athens, Ga. — Uchena Ihekewereme moved to the first row of the 150-person auditorium for a political science class at the University of Georgia. She sat down as usual with her back to the sea of white faces. She had become accustomed to being the only black student in her classes, but it could still be unsettling.
Her hand went up during a discussion when a student compared the January 6 attack on the Capitol to the Black Lives Matter movement. She was the only one to argue that attempting to violently overturn a legitimate election was separate from protests against police brutality and racism.
“I didn’t want to push a false narrative about the black community,” Ihekereme said.
A junior, she was the only black student in three-quarters of the courses she took and one of a handful in all. It was a total cultural shock, he said, “after attending such a racially diverse high school.” “I don’t feel like I’m in danger, but I don’t necessarily feel safe.”
For at least a decade, the University of Georgia has failed to enroll black students proportionate to the number of black high school graduates in the state. In 2020, only 6% of university freshmen were black, compared to 36% of the state’s public high school graduates.
Among the state’s major universities, UGA has one of the nation’s largest disparities between its proportion of black students and the state’s proportion of black high school graduates — second only to the University of Mississippi.
Such racial disparities may be concentrated in the South, but they are pervasive across the country. There are 13 major universities where the gap between the percentage of black students graduating from that state’s public high schools in 2020 and black freshman enrollment is 10 percentage points or more. And in 30 of these universities, the gap has remained the same or widened over the past five years.
State flagship universities are funded primarily through tax dollars, and their mission includes providing an accessible and high-quality education to academically able residents of their states. They often boast the highest graduation rates among public colleges; Provide top-notch educational resources that allow students to be successful; And come with prestige and alumni connections that can launch careers.
Connected: Major universities fail to enroll black and Latino high school graduates from their state
said, ‘they should be ashamed of themselves Will del Pilar, who is vice president of higher education at The Education Trust, a think tank focused on equity. “Public institutions – they should look like taxpayers to the state. There’s no way you can say these are representative institutions.”
UGA, like all major universities, benefits greatly from residents’ tax dollars. It received more in state appropriations this year – $483 million – than any other public higher education institution in the state.
Its undergraduate population of 32,800 is the third largest in the state after Kennesaw State and Georgia State; When both undergraduate and graduate students are counted, it ranks behind Kennesaw State and Georgia Tech.
UGA officials said the university is actively working to increase black representation on campus.
“Black students admitted to UGA – they have a lot of options,” said Alton Standifer, deputy chief of staff to the university president, referring to the competition among Georgia colleges to enroll black students. “What we are doing is trying to let them know that this is a place where we want them to enroll. We want them here, we want them to be part of the community.”
Last year, the university approved a five-year program aimed at increasing enrollment of underrepresented students and need-based financial aid and creating a more inclusive learning environment. UGA also committed to raising $1 million in private funding to support the program.
But the program has yet to have an impact on the number of black students who accept an offer from UGA. According to data provided by the university, in 2021, out of 5,815 students who accepted seats, 432 were black, up from 488 out of 5,743 in 2018.
Some advocates for black students say the university doesn’t spend enough time recruiting at majority-black high schools. UGA officials said they send current UGA students to high schools across the state to encourage students who are underrepresented to apply and attend the university. But they said they don’t keep track of which high schools they attend.
There are undeniable rewards for black students attending UGA. Of the state’s 62 four-year colleges, only the private, elite Emory University has a higher graduation rate for black students than UGA, raising the question of how many more black Georgians would enroll in college if UGA opened its doors more widely. Can get degree.
Flush with resources, UGA spent more per student on instruction in 2021 than any other public college in the state except for the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and Augusta University, which means students will receive stronger academic support and Better chance to graduate. At $1.36 billion, its endowment ranks second among all public universities in the state after Georgia Tech; Similarly, its students earn an average annual salary of around $60,000 after 10 years of enrollment. And its vast alumni network spans hundreds of companies globally, giving graduates a potential leg up in their careers.
Nevertheless, many black students in Georgia choose to attend more diverse institutions or attend a historically black college or university.
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Ayesha Youssef, who was accepted to the highly selective Georgia Tech as well as Georgia State University, didn’t even apply to UGA. She said her sister had transferred from there to Georgia State because she didn’t feel comfortable on the flagship campus.
“It made me think maybe UGA is not for me,” said Joseph, who is in his second year at Georgia State, where in 2020, 41% of students were black. He turned down Georgia Tech because of cost and because it also has a small minority of black students (7%).
But for every black student who is admitted and doesn’t want to go, college counselors say, many more who could be successful are rejected.
Erika Clark is a professional school counselor at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, where 97% of the 870 students are black. Clark said that UGA has made some efforts to recruit a more diverse group of students; However, she said, every year she has students who are rejected even though she believes they can be successful at the University of Georgia.
Clark said, “We still have well-rounded students at Booker T. Washington High School and throughout Atlanta public schools who will thrive at UGA if given the opportunity.”
Several administrators of public schools in Atlanta and the surrounding area said they believe the university focuses too much on standardized test scores, except for athletics, without adequate consideration of grades and extracurricular achievement. The average SAT score for admitted students fell to 1,347 in 2019, from 1,252 four years earlier — an increase of about 100 points. The reliance on SAT scores may be hurting black students, who had an average SAT score of 933 in 2019, 180 points lower than white students.
Like all public colleges in Georgia, and many others nationally, UGA did not require SAT or ACT scores in 2021 because of the pandemic, and the number of black students accepted that year increased to 1,052, the same as last year. 34% higher than But for 2022, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents decided that UGA was one of three public colleges in Georgia that required either SAT or ACT test scores.
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Standifer said the university does not rely primarily on test scores and has used a holistic approach to admissions for years. He noted that admissions of black students increased in 2021 because UGA began using the Common Application, which allows students to use the same online form to apply to multiple colleges at once. Students can apply to multiple colleges more quickly, as they do not have to navigate different application systems and can upload required documents to one site. Select public universities, such as UGA, have seen an increase in applicants using the Common App, including traditionally underrepresented students, such as black students.
Ken Dozier is one of those students whose high GPA was covered up by average test scores. At LaGrange High School, about 70 miles southwest of Atlanta, he said, even though he graduated in the top 10 of his class, he didn’t get into UGA. Instead, Dozier, who is black, enrolled at the University of West Georgia.
“I wanted to go to UGA, but I didn’t score high enough on the SAT,” he said, taking a break from shooting hoops on a basketball court on the University of West Georgia campus.
“However, I’m glad I’m here. When I visited UGA, I was looking around and was like, Will I be comfortable here?
The percentage of black students enrolled at the University of West Georgia, which is about an hour west of Atlanta, increased from 27% to 38% from 2010 to 2020. During the same period, the percentage of black students at UGA did not decrease.
West Georgia administrators say the change was not accidental. Their focus has been on creating a “culture of belonging and connectedness”. They say that providing high-quality educational programs that attract students is just as important as recruiting students to diverse high schools.
“If you look at the percentage of black students from 10 years ago, we don’t match the population of the region or the state of Georgia; Then you’re undermining the state,” said Brendan Kelly, president of the University of West Georgia. “Our mission is to ensure that we can provide a world-class education to the many, not the few.”
UGA’s admissions policy is not the only factor in keeping the percentage of black students at UGA low. Students say that expenses and whether they think the university will help them play an important role.
UGA created a need-based scholarship program in 2017 that supports more than 650 students from low-income backgrounds. Still, families that earn $48,000 to $75,000 a year pay more than $15,000 on average—meaning students have to come out of pocket with more than $60,000 or take out loans to finish college. .
Cameron Bell graduated from Atlanta’s Westlake High School last spring and was accepted at UGA. But she decided to attend Tuskegee University, an HBCU in Alabama that gave her a full ride, allowing her to graduate without debt. She was also impressed by its program in computer science, with a minor in business administration.
“Both my parents went there, and they were successful,” she said.
Bell, along with many of her classmates, rejects the idea that her personal preference is to blame for the lack of diversity at the head of state.
Sitting in a Westlake classroom in March with several other high-achieving seniors, none of whom are going to UGA, she said, “If you’re going to sit back and say, ‘They’re selecting How is it our fault?’ It means you are not making yourself relevant.”