Stark racial divide shows up in Chicago-area college enrollment

Stark racial divide shows up in Chicago-area college enrollment
Pedestrians walk past the entrance to Columbia College's building at 618 S. Michigan Ave. Photo by Tyler Stabile.

Affirmative action–one way the government tried to address America’s racial and economic gap –was intended to reduce education barriers by mandating that public universities consider race in admissions decisions.

By now, chances are you have heard of the Fisher v University of Texas at Austin case, in which a young woman, Abigail Fisher, accused the University of Texas at Austin of not granting her admission because she is white.

Considering the case in their most recent session, the Supreme Court justices chose to send it back to a lower appeals court, with the stipulation that the court should make the university prove that they attempted other ways to increase diversity before resorting to class-based admissions. The result is widely seen to have left affirmative action hanging by a thread–that it will make it more difficult for universities to increase diversity by considering the race of prospective students, according to an analysis in the SCOTUS blog.

The Chicago Reporter took a look at Chicago-area colleges and universities–both public and private–to get an idea of the racial composition of their student bodies. They are  Columbia College, DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago,  Northeastern Illinois University, Northwestern University, University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)  and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The data are from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, which collects standardized data from universities around the country. The data cover undergraduate enrollment for the 2011-2012 academic year.

chart demographics

The numbers show a university system that is still very much divided racially. No university had more than a 17 percent enrollment rate of African Americans, though African Americans made up 32.9 percent of Chicago’s population, according to the 2010 Census.

Private universities–the University of Chicago, Loyola and Northwestern–also had the lowest numbers of African-American students. They were among the most prestigious on the list.

Latino enrollment exceeds African American enrollment in most Chicago-area universities, with the exception of Columbia College. But Latinos were still underrepresented in many schools compared to their overall population of 28.9 percent, according to the 2010 Census.

Not reflected in the graphic are many other factors that can affect racial outcomes, even with affirmative action in place. The most expensive school – Northwestern University with tuition at $45,120 for three quarters – is more than seven times that of the least expensive – the University of Illinois at Chicago, which costs on average $5,203 for in-state students.

Based on these numbers, can we truly say affirmative action in education has been a success in Chicago? Or that we no longer need it?


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  • diversity for the sake of diversity does a disservice to all minorities. In the case of college admissions and merit based scholarships....there should be no race/ethnic based preferences. That should no longer be a consideration or factor in admission. Students should be prepared to compete fairly based on grades, test scores and ECA's. Period.

    Whatever happened to MLK's "want people to judge based on character not on color of skin"?

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