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Diversity on college campuses has come a long way. Over the past 40 years, the percentage of nonwhite students enrolling in 4-year public and private colleges has steadily increased, with black and Hispanic students experiencing the largest gains. While racial demographics of 4-year college students are slowly starting to reflect the demographics of the U.S. population, a closer look at national data suggests that diversity is not evenly spread across the most selective colleges.
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that in 1976, more than 80 percent of students at 4-year colleges were white. By 2017, that number had fallen to 55.3 percent. Across all 4-year postsecondary institutions, currently 12.3 percent of students are black, 14.7 percent are Hispanic, 6.7 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander and 4.2 percent are another race. In addition, 6.6 percent of students at 4-year colleges are nonresidents born outside of the U.S.
Even though undergraduate enrollment has increased across major demographic groups, racial gaps still persist. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of recent black high school graduates enrolled in college trails that of whites by more than 10 percentage points. The gap is even larger between black students and Asian students. As of 2017, 87 percent of Asian students who recently completed high school enrolled in college, compared to 58.4 percent of black high school graduates. Interestingly, after decades of increasing college enrollment, Hispanic high school students are about as likely to attend college as white students.
Despite increases in enrollment rates, black and Hispanic students remain underrepresented at very selective private schools. In fact, research conducted by The New York Times found that these minority groups are even more underrepresented at top universities now than they were 35 years ago.
Improvements in enrollment statistics for black and Hispanic students has largely been the result of these students attending less selective schools, which, perhaps counterintuitively, are often the most expensive for low-income students. A total of 38 percent of students at open-admission private institutions are black or Hispanic, compared to just 18 percent at very selective universities. On the other hand, Asians and nonresidents together account for only 6 percent of students at open-admission schools, yet 20 percent of students at very selective schools.
With these trends in mind, researchers at HeyTutor wanted to determine which colleges in the U.S. are the most diverse. To find America’s most diverse private colleges, the team analyzed data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Its researchers looked at fall 2017 undergraduate enrollment for more than 900 four-year, private, degree-granting institutions. Specialty-focus schools and online schools were excluded.
HeyTutor examined race/ethnicity data and calculated the Simpson’s Index of Diversity for each school. The diversity index can be interpreted as the probability that any two students chosen at random will belong to separate racial/ethnic groups. For the diversity index, students that are not U.S. citizens or nationals (nonresidents) are considered a separate group. Additionally, HeyTutor grouped schools into the following cohorts based on size:
- Large schools: more than 5,000 students
- Midsize schools: 1,000 to 4,999 students
- Small schools: fewer than 1,000 students
Across all private four-year universities, the diversity index ranges from a high of 83.29 to a low of 0.00. Schools at the upper end of the diversity index have a more uniform distribution of students across different racial/ethnic groups. On the other hand, schools with a low diversity index have a single group that accounts for most (or all) of the student body.
The diversity index of total undergraduate enrollment across all four-year, private, not-for-profit universities is 59.86, based on the following racial/ethnic breakdown: white (60.5 percent), Hispanic (11.3 percent), black (11.5 percent), Asian (5.9 percent), nonresident (6.4 percent), and other races (4.3 percent).
Interestingly, the moderately selective cohort of schools is the least diverse of any school grouping. Schools in the open admission, minimally selective, and very selective groups have similar diversity indices; however, their demographic compositions are all quite different.
Here are the most diverse private universities in the U.S.
The 15 most diverse large private colleges in America
15. National University
- Diversity Index: 73.12
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 7,877
- White: 2,733 (34.7%)
- Hispanic: 2008 (25.5%)
- Black or African American: 746 (9.5%)
- Asian: 710 (9.0%)
- Nonresident: 119 (1.5%)
- Other races: 577 (7.3%)
National University in La Jolla, CA, follows a unique educational model in which students enroll in one course at a time for four weeks until the student finishes his/her degree. The percentage of Hispanic students at National University is more than double the private university average of 11.3 percent, while the percentage of African American students is slightly below the national average of 11.5 percent. National University is also known for its commitment to teaching adult learners, especially those who have served in the military.
14. Boston University
- Diversity Index: 73.20
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 18,080
- White: 7,087 (39.2%)
- Hispanic: 1991 (11.0%)
- Black or African American: 721 (4.0%)
- Asian: 2,566 (14.2%)
- Nonresident: 3853 (21.3%)
- Other races: 682 (3.8%)
Boston University is nestled along the banks of the Charles River in Boston. With 21.3 percent of the school population categorized as “nonresident,” the college prides itself on hosting students from more than 131 different countries. The school’s Admissions Student Diversity Board (ASDB) actively recruits undergraduate students from underrepresented ethnic communities. On campus, the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground (HTC) provides a space where students of all races, religions, and backgrounds can engage in intergroup dialogue.
13. Harvard University
- Diversity Index: 73.35
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 9,965
- White: 4,271 (42.9%)
- Hispanic: 1,135 (11.4%)
- Black or African American: 689 (6.9%)
- Asian: 1,735 (17.4%)
- Nonresident: 1185 (11.9%)
- Other races: 624 (6.3%)
Located in Cambridge, about three miles west of Boston, Harvard University is one of the many Ivy League colleges on this list. More than half of the undergraduate population at Harvard is nonwhite, with Asian students having the greatest representation among minority groups. The Office of Diversity Education & Support and the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations offer support for students in areas related to racial or ethnic identity. Both centers also host programming designed to encourage greater interest and engagement around diversity initiatives.
12. Princeton University
- Diversity Index: 73.38
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 5,394
- White: 2,260 (41.9%)
- Hispanic: 540 (10.0%)
- Black or African American: 409 (7.6%)
- Asian: 1,131 (21.0%)
- Nonresident: 656 (12.2%)
- Other races: 250 (4.6%)
Princeton University in suburban New Jersey is also a member of the Ivy League. Similar to other highly selective universities, the percentages of Asian and nonresident students at Princeton are higher than the average of all private universities, while the percentages of African American and Hispanic students are below the average. To help create an inclusive campus environment, Princeton launched new courses in cultural studies, developed outreach programs designed to improve college access for underrepresented groups, and embarked on campus-wide strategic plans to improve the university’s diversity climate.
11. University of Chicago
- Diversity Index: 73.74
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 6,310
- White: 2,652 (42.0%)
- Hispanic: 789 (12.5%)
- Black or African American: 334 (5.3%)
- Asian: 1,159 (18.4%)
- Nonresident: 836 (13.2%)
- Other races: 384 (6.1%)
The University of Chicago in Illinois states that “commitment to diversity is central to our mission of discovery.” Strong representation from the Asian, Hispanic, and nonresident communities contributes to the university’s overall diversity index of 73.74. However, as a percentage of the student body, the African American population at the University of Chicago is less than half the national average of 11.5 percent. On campus, the Center for Identity + Inclusion supports the university’s various racial, ethnic, and LGBTQ student groups to help lay the foundation for their success.
10. The New School
- Diversity Index: 74.27
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 7,125
- White: 2,302 (32.3%)
- Hispanic: 839 (11.8%)
- Black or African American: 405 (5.7%)
- Asian: 676 (9.5%)
- Nonresident: 2267 (31.8%)
- Other races: 293 (4.1%)
The New School, a 100-year-old private university located in New York City, is home to the largest percentage of nonresident students out of any large private college in the U.S. In fact, the percentage of nonresident students at The New School is almost five times higher than the average for private universities. The New School is proud of being the “#1 most international university” and offers a variety of programs and resources for international students and scholars. The percentage of Asian students is also above the private university average of 5.9 percent, while the percentages of African American students and students from other races are below the average.
9. Emory University
- Diversity Index: 74.31
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 6,937
- White: 2,818 (40.6%)
- Hispanic: 640 (9.2%)
- Black or African American: 571 (8.2%)
- Asian: 1,338 (19.3%)
- Nonresident: 1172 (16.9%)
- Other races: 267 (3.8%)
Located in Atlanta, Emory University is the only Southern college on this list. Much of Emory’s diversity comes from its high percentage of Asian and nonresident students. To promote tolerance and inclusion within the student body, all first-year students undergo an educational program called Creating Emory, which starts at orientation and continues throughout the first month of classes. Likewise, the Office of Equity and Inclusion offers diversity programming and resources for students, faculty, and staff year-round.
8. Cornell University
- Diversity Index: 74.64
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 14,907
- White: 5,700 (38.2%)
- Hispanic: 1906 (12.8%)
- Black or African American: 978 (6.6%)
- Asian: 2,818 (18.9%)
- Nonresident: 1602 (10.7%)
- Other races: 760 (5.1%)
Located in Ithaca, NY, Cornell University is the largest Ivy League school by undergraduate enrollment. Since its founding in the late 1860s, Cornell has encouraged international students, minority students, and women to enroll in the college. Today, Cornell’s diverse student body includes above-average representation from Hispanic, Asian, and non-resident groups. Cornell offers a variety of multicultural resource centers, including the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives, the Center for Intercultural Dialogue, the Asian and Asian American Center, and the Latino/a Success Office.
7. University of Southern California
- Diversity Index: 75.14
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 19,170
- White: 7,527 (39.3%)
- Hispanic: 2743 (14.3%)
- Black or African American: 876 (4.6%)
- Asian: 3,889 (20.3%)
- Nonresident: 2674 (13.9%)
- Other races: 1145 (6.0%)
The University of Southern California, located in Los Angeles, lists “fostering a community of diverse viewpoints” as one of its “highest priorities.” USC’s student body consists of a high percentage of Asian (20.3 percent) and nonresident (13.9 percent) students, as well as a Hispanic population that is above the average for all private universities. USC makes diversity one of the cornerstones of student life. For example, the university’s annual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Week hosts around 100 events to engage students, staff, and faculty in diversity-related initiatives.
6. Carnegie Mellon University
- Diversity Index: 75.64
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 6,533
- White: 1,838 (28.1%)
- Hispanic: 579 (8.9%)
- Black or African American: 283 (4.3%)
- Asian: 1,994 (30.5%)
- Nonresident: 1202 (18.4%)
- Other races: 278 (4.3%)
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is located in Pittsburgh, PA. Among all large private colleges, CMU boasts the highest percentage of Asian students, about five times higher than the national average. CMU’s Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, the newest incarnation of its 50-year-old diversity initiative, provides resources and support for historically underrepresented students. Students can also celebrate diversity by participating in one of the 80 multicultural student organizations or attending workshops focused on social justice.
5. Johns Hopkins University
- Diversity Index: 75.77
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 6,109
- White: 2,167 (35.5%)
- Hispanic: 814 (13.3%)
- Black or African American: 409 (6.7%)
- Asian: 1,506 (24.7%)
- Nonresident: 614 (10.1%)
- Other races: 330 (5.4%)
Johns Hopkins University, located in Baltimore, states that it is “deeply committed to the dignity and equality of all persons.” To foster a more diverse campus climate, the university has created new leadership positions related to encouraging diversity, launched a Faculty Diversity Initiative to recruit more faculty members from underrepresented groups, and created the JHU Roadmap on Diversity and Inclusion. While almost two-thirds of JHU students are nonwhite, black students are still underrepresented compared to other minority groups.
4. Columbia University in the City of New York
- Diversity Index: 77.06
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 8,170
- White: 3,004 (36.8%)
- Hispanic: 1077 (13.2%)
- Black or African American: 614 (7.5%)
- Asian: 1,416 (17.3%)
- Nonresident: 1377 (16.9%)
- Other races: 510 (6.2%)
Columbia University is an Ivy League school located in New York City. In its Diversity Mission Statement, the university reiterates its commitment to “increasing diversity in its workforce, its student body, and its educational programs.” About one-third of Columbia undergraduates identify as nonresident or Asian. The university’s Office of Multicultural Affairs serves as the go-to resource for underrepresented students, providing an array of support services and programming.
3. Stanford University
- Diversity Index: 77.77
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 7,064
- White: 2,518 (35.6%)
- Hispanic: 1102 (15.6%)
- Black or African American: 471 (6.7%)
- Asian: 1,529 (21.6%)
- Nonresident: 649 (9.2%)
- Other races: 764 (10.8%)
Stanford University, located in California, is known for its proximity to Silicon Valley and its robust business and technology curricula. The university has also been recognized for its commitment to diversity. In fact, roughly one in five students at Stanford is Asian, and students who identify as Hispanic or nonresident are well-represented, too. In addition, 10.8 percent identify as another race, the highest percentage on this list. The university offers 50 diversity-related activities, support centers, and organizations for its students, including the Black Community Services Center, the Diversity and First-Gen Office, and the Native American Cultural Center.
2. New York University
- Diversity Index: 78.08
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 26,417
- White: 8,101 (30.7%)
- Hispanic: 3585 (13.6%)
- Black or African American: 1,599 (6.1%)
- Asian: 5,176 (19.6%)
- Nonresident: 5077 (19.2%)
- Other races: 1278 (4.8%)
New York University (NYU), a private school in the heart of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, is the largest college on this list. In its Diversity Statement, NYU underscores its commitment to “building a culture that respects and embraces diversity, inclusion, and equity.” Collectively, almost 40 percent of NYU students identify as Asian or nonresident. NYU’s Center for Multicultural Education and Programs is dedicated to diversity education and training across the university, including a variety of cultural and social justice events.
1. University of San Francisco
Diversity Index: 79.51
Total undergraduate enrollment: 6,845
White: 1,758 (25.7%)
Hispanic: 1475 (21.5%)
Black or African American: 265 (3.9%)
Asian: 1,531 (22.4%)
Nonresident: 1149 (16.8%)
Other races: 526 (7.7%)
The University of San Francisco in California has the largest percentage of nonwhite students on this list and has the highest diversity index among large private universities. Despite this, the percentage of African American students on this list is below average. To support an inclusive campus climate, the Office of Diversity Engagement and Community Outreach offers community engagement opportunities, supports the Diversity Scholar and Visiting Professor program, and hosts the Diversity Speaker Series. In addition, the university is home to 35 affinity groups and an Intercultural Center that focuses on programming related to racial and ethnic identity.
The data used in this analysis is from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Only four-year, private, not-for-profit, degree-granting institutions that are primarily baccalaureate and above were included in the analysis. Additionally, institutions that primarily offer distance-based learning and specialty-focused schools were excluded.
For each institution, a Simpson Diversity Index was calculated based on the fall 2017 undergraduate enrollment data from the NCES. Students with unknown race/ethnicity were not included in the analysis, which is the reason some of the diversity breakdowns do not sum to 100 percent. The diversity index can be interpreted as the probability that any two students chosen at random will belong to separate racial/ethnic groups. For the purpose of this analysis, students that are not U.S. citizens or nationals (nonresidents) are considered a separate group in calculating the index.
Schools were grouped into the following categories based on undergraduate enrollment:
- Large schools: more than 5,000 students
- Midsize schools: 1,000 – 4,999 students
- Small schools: less than 1,000 students