For the first time in Penn’s history, minority students comprise a majority of the newly admitted class.
Among the prospective Class of 2015, 52 percent of accepted students are self-identified minorities — defined by the Admissions Office as Asian, black, Latino and American Indian. This number, which includes international students, is up from 48 percent last year.
Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said this year’s diversity total “fits in with the larger goal and aspiration of the University.”
“It’s a threshold any time you reach 50 percent, so this is definitely significant,” he said, adding that the minority presence on campus reflects the shifting demographics of the country as a whole.
However, Furda acknowledged that the process of self-identifying as part of a racial or ethnic group in admissions “can prove to be a bit messy.”
Because there is no standardized way for colleges to report data on the makeup of admitted classes, statistics on minority representation should always be viewed with a bit of skepticism, said David Hawkins, director of public policy and research for the National Association for College Admissions and Counseling.
In some situations, Hawkins said students will decline to provide their cultural background “out of fear that it will hurt them in the admissions process,” which can further skew numbers.
Daniel McCord, who was accepted regular decision from Half Hollow Hills High School West in Dix Hills, N.Y., said he self-identified as both American Indian and black on his application.
When a student identifies in multiple groups, Furda said the diversity percentage reported by the Admissions Office will only consider that student to be a member of the more underrepresented group.
For someone like McCord — who is currently deciding between Penn, as well as Duke and Princeton universities and the University of Virginia — Furda said the Admissions Office would only count him as American Indian, since there are fewer American Indians than black students on campus.
Furda added that the growing diversity of Penn’s applicant pool has made it increasingly important for student hopefuls to elaborate on their cultural background.
“Checking a box certainly contributes to a percentage, but it doesn’t give us a deeper sense of what that individual might contribute on campus,” he said.
Top Colleges Educational Consultant Steven Goodman said admissions officers at schools like Penn want to see students do something to support the claims they make on their application.
For minority students in particular, “you have to have done something in that world to truly stand out,” said Goodman, a 1989 Graduate School of Education graduate. “You need to do more than just check the box.”
In general, student leaders were pleased with the University’s diversity numbers for the newly admitted class.
“It seemed like a great year for admissions at Penn,” said College freshman Luis Vargas, chairman of admissions and recruitment for the Latino Coalition. This year’s minority total “helps the University maintain relevance in a rapidly changing climate for diversity in the United States.”
College freshman Alexis Van Eyken — chairwoman of admissions and alumni relations for UMOJA, Penn’s umbrella organization for black student groups — agreed, but added that “we need white males just as much as we need anyone else on campus.”
“Beyond the basic numbers, we should appreciate our diversity of experience here at Penn,” she said.
College junior Nicky Singh, chairman of the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, said it would be helpful to have a more detailed breakdown of students’ cultural backgrounds.
“While Asians make up roughly 20 to 25 percent of the student body, the geographic diversity among those students is very low,” Singh said, adding that “there’s a lot of red tape when it comes to what’s available from the Admissions Office, which has made it difficult to get concrete data. Without that, it’s hard to know how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.”
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