The Meaning of Declining Black Enrollment at the University of Michigan

by Austin McCoy & Garrett Felber

A couple of people I know, including Garrett Felber, a fellow organizer from the United Coalition for Racial Justice (UCRJ), have analyzed the recent enrollment numbers at the University of Michigan (UM) and the results are rather devastating for black students at UM. I have decided to post this for all of us who were active in last year’s racial justice campaigns. I hope others share.

They figured out that UM inflates the percentages by dividing the amount of black students who enroll by the total number of domestic students who enroll. Thus, UM leaves out international students in their calculations. They also conclude that black enrollment is at its lowest point since the initial Black Action Movement protests during the early 1970s.

Here are Garrett’s findings. Note: All University of Michigan enrollment reports are available online.

“Alright, I crunched some numbers this morning…. In fact, Michigan is technically under 4% (3.99%…they round up) and at the lowest number of black students since records began to be kept in the early 1970s.

· There are 1,742 black students total, which is 4% of the total enrollment of 43,625.

· There are 1,742 black students total, which is 4.6% of the enrollment of U.S. citizens and permanent residents of 37,611.

· This means that black students only represent 4.6% of 86% of the student population, which factors out the 14% of students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

From 2013 to 2014, then, the enrollment dropped from 4.2% to just under 4%, but the school makes it look like 4.8% to 4.6% by eliminating those 14% of students in their 10-year portrait. They’ll say there’s nothing shady here because they’ve been doing this all along. But there’s no disputing these three facts:

1) Black students represent the smallest percentage on campus since records were kept.

2) Black student enrollment is now below Latina/os, and this is not due to a major rise, since that population is only 4.4%

3) The school eliminates 14% of students in their 10 year figures that won’t make any negative dent in black enrollment since African American students are likely both residents and citizens.”

Now, a professor analyzing the data suggested that we should not even think about percentages. We should instead consider the total number of black students that are lost yearly. His conclusion:

“After hovering in the low 1200's since the 2010, the number of black undergraduates has fallen to 1,166. Of course, it was 1,968 in 2002. We have lost 800 black students in a decade.”

Obviously, declining black enrollment has negative implications for UM’s campus climate. As James D. Anderson argued in the expert report submitted during the Gratz v. Bollinger Supreme Court case in 2003, the sharp drop in black enrollment contributes to the campus’s oppressive racial climate. The steady decline in black enrollment is also intensified by the consistent amount of white students who enroll yearly, especially those who come from more wealthy backgrounds.

These numbers also have implications for future racial justice activism at the University of Michigan. As black enrollment falls, the numbers of black students available to advocate for greater inclusion on campus shrinks. The drop in black enrollment exacerbates the physical, intellectual, and emotional toll placed on black students as they strive to earn their degrees in a timely fashion.

I do not want this discussion to detract from all of the ‪#‎Ferguson ‪#‎UMSolidarity and‪ #‎BlackLivesMatters protests on campus. Obviously, these protests are very important. We are heavily committed to fighting that struggle, but we all should remain aware of how these protests give President Mark Schlissel and the rest of the administration cover for their public silence around this issue. They have yet to really address the problem of declining black enrollment beyond making vague rhetorical appeals to diversity and contemplating piecemeal policies such as on-site recruitment, which will not make up for the hundreds of black students that UM has lost over the last ten years.

While thinking of the meaning of the decline of black enrollment at UM, I am reminded of a Ferguson-related conversation that transpired in the Law School this past semester. A black student talked about how the Law School failed to meet her expectations when it came to talking about race in the classroom. She told the room that she expected to have such conversations, especially when race was a salient issue in particular cases. But she reported that professors failed to talk about it, thus placing all of the pressure on her to break that silence. I wrote down “#BBUM” as I listened to her story. It was all too familiar because she reiterated the narratives of alienation that black students told during last year’s twitter campaign.

Falling black enrollment only ensures the continuing significance and relevance of the concept of ‪#‎BBUM. It is rumored that some administrators marched with us the night after Prosecutor Bob McCullough announced that the grand jury in Ferguson decided not to indict Darren Wilson. It is nice that the issue of racist police violence can generate such a broad opposition at UM. However, administrators cannot march and protest with us and remain not talk about how black enrollment on campus continues to fall. That cannot be tolerated. There’s a connection between racial and economic inequality in the university and the same structures outside of the ivory tower.