Study: Universities prefer foreign black students
Blacks at Ivy League schools are over three times more likely to be immigrants than blacks in America's general population, a study published in February's American Journal of Education and coauthored by Princeton researchers suggests.
Within the United States, first and second-generation black immigrants make up 13 percent of the total black population. In contrast, data from the National Longitudinal Study of Freshmen found that international black students — either first or second-generation — made up 23 percent of blacks attending public universities and 41 percent of those attending Ivy League schools.
The study offers three possible explanations for immigrant blacks' overrepresentation at American universities. The first is that admissions officers explicitly choose immigrant blacks over native blacks. The second is that admissions officers do not choose immigrant blacks intentionally but end up choosing them because they possess other traits that colleges desire, such as higher grades and test scores.
The final hypothesis, which is based on previous studies suggesting that whites find immigrant blacks more "likeable" than native blacks, is that admissions officers are subconsciously admitting applicants based on "sociable qualities" that they perceive immigrant blacks possess more than native blacks.
The study's authors — Princeton sociology professor Douglas Massey, Princeton postdoctoral population researchers Margarita Mooney and Kimberly Torres and Penn sociology professor Camille Charles — used data from a previous study that Massey headed.
In the fall of 1999, Massey and several other researchers surveyed a sample of freshmen entering 28 selective universities. The results of the survey were published in a book called "Source of the River: The Social Origins of Freshmen at America's Selective Colleges and Universities."
While collecting data from these freshmen, whom they interviewed at the end of each spring semester during their four years in college, the authors noticed that blacks from "immigrant origins were overrepresented compared to in the [general] population," Massey said.
The statistics were "a controversial finding," Massey said. "Not that anybody disputed the finding," he added, "but nobody had realized the degree to which black students were of immigrant origins."
The researchers found that immigrant blacks and native blacks are "virtually identical" when it comes to factors including income, parental employment, parental childrearing practices, peer support and academic achievement.
One notable difference they did find is that "black immigrant fathers were far more likely to have graduated from college and to hold advanced degrees than native fathers," the study said. "Possibly as a result of this difference, immigrant children were more likely to attend private school," and as a result were exposed to less violence.
"The black immigrants you get in America who come from Africa are people who are already successful in their own countries," Kenyan citizen and Swahili professor Mahiri Mwita said. "[They] already know the value of education, so they are likely to make choices that will help their children go to the best universities in the country."
Ultimately, the study supports a combination of the second and third hypotheses.
"Our bottom-line conclusion is that admissions officers don't seem to be intentionally selecting immigrant origin kids," Massey said. "Rather, they are selecting African Americans or black Americans who are very well qualified."
"I think that they weren't paying attention to immigrant origins," she added. "I think most of the college admissions officers were very surprised by the data we produced."
What to do with the conclusions of this study depends on admissions officers' definition of affirmative action, Massey said.
"If the purpose of affirmative action is to redress past wrongs and redress former slaves and people victimized by a century of Jim Crow, then you want to favor native blacks perhaps," he said. "If the purpose is to reflect the diversity of American society, then you want to favor immigrant blacks."
Abass Mohamed '09, a native Somalian and resident of Kenya, said that he didn't believe native Africans were overrepresented at Princeton.
Mohamed, who is on full financial aid, added that African students view financial aid as a big incentive to come to the United States. "In economic terms, kids from the African continent, in my opinion, would be economically disadvantaged compared to African-American kids," Mohamed said.
Reader Comments (0)
No comments yet. Be the first to post your opinion on this article.