A review of data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics demonstrates that demographic trends on college campuses have evolved over the past 30 years. Since 1976, the Hispanic community on college campuses has grown substantially, increasing from 4% of the total number of college students to 15% of enrollees in 2012. The percentage of black students grew significantly as well, from 10% to 15%. The Asian Pacific/Pacific Islander student enrollment numbers also swelled, from 2% to 6% of all college students. Commensurately, the percentage of white students on campus dropped from 84% to 60%.
Recent U.S. Census data demonstrates that the Asian American student population continued to grow during a period of enrollment decline at American colleges in 2012 and 2013; this may reflect that a growing number of first-generation Asian Americans are attending college. Current census data shows that 8.1% of college students identify as Asian American, but in our ranking, the percentages of enrolled Asian American students are significantly higher. It is probably not a coincidence that the schools we sampled also recruit and support first-generation students.
Statisticians use several indexes to measure racial diversity on college campuses. Here, we use the Racial Index Equity Score to calculate diversity by combining the number of discrete racial groups at each institution with each group’s percentage of the total student body. Schools with comparable populations from different racial groups have a higher score than colleges dominated by a single demographic. Not surprisingly, the student populations at most of the schools on our list boast double-digit percentage representation from at least three different racial groups.
Data variables are defined as follows:
- Type of Institution: this variable notes whether schools are public or private, their financial status (all 50 schools on our list are not-for-profit) and the highest academic degree they award.
- Enrollment: this variable notes each school’s total population and the number of undergraduate students. As a rule, all of the schools on our list offer at least baccalaureate degrees.
- Racial Equity Index Score: based on the Shannon-Wiener Biodiversity calculation, this number indicates how equally-distributed a school’s population is. The closer to one (1) a school is, the more likely it is that students will encounter someone of a different race on campus.
- Enrollment by Race: this data, obtained from IPEDS, shows the breakdown of each school’s student body using the following racial groups:
- American Indian or Alaska Native
- Black or African American
- Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
- White or Caucasian
- Two or More Races
How to Interpret the Data
In previous iterations of this list, we included schools with the highest self-reporting populations of Asian, African American and Latino or Hispanic students. In the current ranking, we also evaluated each institution’s academic performance. This is a significant departure from our previous methodology, and the result is a thoroughly vetted list of quality schools that embrace diversity.
Colleges of all sizes appear on this list, though smaller schools are more prevalent than large universities. Nine schools in the top ten have student populations below 5,000, and the schools with fewer than 2,000 students outnumber those with more than 10,000. We used a 500-student minimum for our calculations.
Interestingly, all but seven schools on the list are found in four states: California, New York, New Jersey and Texas. Five of the schools in the top 10 are in New York. Illinois and Michigan are the only landlocked states with schools on our list.
The big four states revealed different diversity trends found throughout the country. Colleges in California, for instance, boasted relatively high percentages for both Asian and Hispanic/Latino students. Schools in New York and New Jersey had a high number of African American students while Texas colleges had a large proportion of Hispanic/Latino attendees. California and Texas both featured high percentages of students identifying as non-resident aliens. White students were one of the dominant racial groups for the vast majority of the schools on our list.
Another intriguing trend is the predominance of religious schools. Although several large, public universities made our list ― including Rutgers, as well as a handful of schools in the University of Hawaii, Cal State and CUNY systems ― Christian schools accounted for more than half of the top 50. All but one of the faith-based schools on our list are coed.
Finally, please note that more than 1,700 schools were considered for this list; even the lowest schools on our ranking are significantly more diverse than most of the country’s other colleges.