It turns out the Ivy League’s racial diversity stats are only half the story. People in search of egalitarianism at places like Harvard and Columbia shouldn’t just be asking what color students are, but where they’re from, too.
Call it the Ivy League’s dirty little secret: While America’s most elite colleges do in fact make it a point to promote ethnic diversity on their campuses, a lot of them do so by admitting hugely disproportionate numbers of wealthy immigrants and their children rather than black students with deep roots—and troubled histories—in the United States.
“Very few black students [at Harvard] were able to be categorized under the term ‘just black,’” says Joy Alison Cooper. Cooper graduated from Harvard in 2006 and is now a Fogarty Scholar doing clinical research in Nairobi, Kenya. “There was an overrepresentation of Africans,” she says, “and specifically Nigerians. Nigerians were so numerous that in my senior year, my best friend helped start the Nigerian Students Association.”
The statistics are striking: Though African immigrants, many of them from Nigeria and Ghana, make up less than 1 percent of America’s total population, first- and second-generation black immigrants comprise 41 percent of all black students at Ivy League schools, according to 2007 research from teams at Princeton and Penn. Another study, this one published in Sociology of Education in 2009, found that immigrant blacks attended select colleges at almost four times the rate of native-born African Americans. Outside of the Ivy League, almost 44 percent of African immigrants graduated from a four-year college, compared to just 18 percent of native blacks.
None of this would matter if black Americans and their immigrant counterparts were gunning for the Ivies from a level playing field. But they’re not. Data shows that African immigrants, Nigerians in particular, are far wealthier and more highly educated than many Americans of any race. In 2000, when the median household income for African Americans was about $30,000, the median income for Nigerian immigrant families was more than $45,000 (PDF). Where education is concerned, in 2007, African immigrants were likelier to have obtained a college or graduate degree than any other immigrant population, and 20 percent likelier than the U.S. population as a whole.
The best-known poster child for the Ivy League’s “diversity” is, of course, our “African-American” president, whose father was Kenyan and mother was white.