Hundreds of mostly black students from Penn, Temple and Drexel stopped traffic when they sat in the middle of Market Street during a protest last month. They held signs expressing solidarity with students at Yale and Missouri. They asked for changes to the Philly schools’ curriculums and condemned perceived bigotry from Greek organizations.
While their actions were mostly portrayed as a quick response to protests happening throughout the country, perhaps the frustration and concerns were long overdue. Data clearly shows that Philly-area universities have enrolled a lower percentage of black students in the last 20 years.
From 1994 to 2014, the share of undergraduate black students as a percentage of the undergraduate student bodies at Philadelphia’s most prominent colleges and universities has declined from 9.2 percent to 7.9 percent. Billy Penn examined statistics from the U.S. Department of Education for Philly-area schools Drexel, Penn, Villanova, La Salle, Saint Joseph’s, Temple, Swarthmore, University of the Arts, Cabrini, Haverford, Bryn Mawr and Philadelphia U, as well as Penn State.
Only La Salle and Cabrini had their percentage of black students increase by more than 5 percent. Most other schools had increases between zero and 2.5 percent. Temple’s, Drexel’s and St. Joseph’s shares of black students all declined during the 20-year period. That means half of the “City Six” schools — those most closely associated with Philadelphia — have a less substantial black student population than in the 90s.
Temple had by far the largest drop. It has seen not only its share of black students decline by 11.3 percent since 1994 but its total number of black students decrease, too. None of the other universities in our survey experienced a loss in the total number of black students.
In 1994, Temple had 4,661 black students — and in 1996 it had 5,139. In 2014, there were 3,697. This decrease in the enrollment of black students happened at a time when the university’s overall enrollment climbed from 19,121 to 28,287.
A spokesperson for Temple and the interim VP of the university’s Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership did not respond to interview requests. Leaders of diversity offices at Drexel and Penn State also did not respond.
These numbers match national trends. While black enrollment has skyrocketed overall at colleges in the last 20 years, a recent article by Andrew McGill of The Atlantic showed that most of the growth has occurred at colleges primarily offering associate’s degrees. He looked at 108 prominent research universities in the United States and found their share of black students as a percentage of the overall student body had decreased by -.3 percent since 1994.
Based on national and local demographics, Philadelphia’s share of black college students should be much higher. In 2014, they made up 7.9 percent of the undergraduate student body at the universities listed above. Nationally, according to Census data, black men and women make up 15 percent of all 20-to-24 year-olds. In Pennsylvania, that number is about the same. In Philadelphia, it’s much higher. Blacks represent about 44 percent of the 20-to-24 population.
Two schools, Cabrini and La Salle, feature student bodies at least 15 percent black. None come close to replicating the 44 percent figure of college-aged Philadelphians.
Still, Anthea Butler, a Penn professor of religious and Africana studies and frequent national commentator on issues of race, is not surprised by the information. She pointed to four major reasons for the possible decline: modifications to affirmative action, the ever-expanding costs of higher education, Philadelphia’s underperforming public schools and an increased emphasis on standardized testing in high school, as well as during the admissions process. Blacks had the lowest mean SAT scores of any ethnicity/race in 2015.
“Having said all of that, it’s very troubling to me,” Butler said…. “We are preparing another generation, and we’re replicating the same kinds of structural racism issues.”
This fall’s incidents have shined a light on how delicate campus environments can be. Especially given the racial makeup of most universities, Butler said campuses must do more to promote diversity and inclusivity and educate all students about race.
“We expect the students of color to bear the brunt of everything,” she said. “We aren’t holding the people in the majority responsible. That’s kinda my thing. These kinds of racial incidents that happen on campus, most students really just don’t want to have to deal with it. You get a talk about sexual harassment. You should get a talk about racism.”