Georgetown took fifth place in Black Enterprise’s 2008 ranking of Top 50 Colleges for African Americans – a 16 spot climb from the last ranking in 2006.
The first four colleges on the list were Spelman College, Howard University, Morehouse College and Hampton University, all of which are considered historically black colleges.
According to their Web site, Black Enterprise produced their rankings by averaging the ratings of over 700 African Americans involved in the field of higher education, based on the “social and academic” environments for black students on a scale of one to five. The average scores given by the presidents, chancellors and student affairs directors who were surveyed were used to calculate overall scores. The black student graduation rates were also taken into account.
Lyndon Dominique, an assistant professor in the English department who teaches classes in the African Studies department, said the efforts of various groups and individuals on campus have been a large reason for Georgetown’s recent ascension in the rankings.
“I am really pleased that Black Enterprise is duly noting the hard work and exhaustive efforts of . the many pockets of the university who recruit, retain and support superb African-American students here at Georgetown,” Dominique said.
Gay Gibson Cima, a professor of English who holds a joint appointment in the African Studies Department, disputes the notion that there is a “one size fits all” policy or ranking that can evaluate what university is best for black students.
“There is much work yet to do,” Cima said. “I contest the idea that there is any particular college that is best for all African-American students.”
In order to be considered, schools had to be accredited four-year institutions with an African American enrollment of at least 3 percent. Currently, black students comprise 7 percent of Georgetown’s undergraduate population. Georgetown has a 91 percent matriculation rate for black students and 467 black students, 7 percent of the student body, currently enrolled.
Georgetown’s percentage of black students is actually lower than other schools that placed in the top 10 positions on the list. For example, at Stanford University, Swarthmore College and Harvard University, all of which placed in the top 10, black students make up 8 percent of the student population, according to College Board. At Amherst College, which placed ninth, 10 percent of undergraduates are black.
Rosemary Kilkenny, vice president for institutional diversity and equity, noted that many more black students are accepted to Georgetown but choose not enroll, often citing cost as the determining factor.
“One of the activities I would like to see us do is to survey those [admitted] students who don’t come to find out why,” she said.
“When I entered Georgetown in fall 2005, African-American students made up 6.7 percent of the student population,” said Alessandra Brown (MSB ’09), president of Georgetown’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “The rate is still a horribly low 7 percent. I hoped that by the time I graduated, Georgetown would have made the effort to bring this number to 10 percent, but clearly that’s not happening any time soon.”
Kilkenny, agreeing “the number should be higher,” said she would like to work with university admissions to raise it.
While some were surprised by Georgetown’s climb, Francesca Fontenot (MSB ’10), campus liaison for the Black Student Alliance, described the various campus resources available to black students, which may have contributed to Georgetown’s high rank. She noted the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, which offers academic, personal and financial support, mentoring students and educating them about available scholarships.
She also discussed the importance of the various black student organizations.
“We have a greater number of organizations representing our culture than any other ethnicity at Georgetown, including GU Women of Color, Black Student Alliance, African Society of Georgetown and Caribbean Culture Circle,” she said. “Georgetown is probably one of the few schools with a newspaper catering to minorities, The Fire This Time.” She also cited the recently added option to minor in African American studies.
Brown, who feels blacks are underrepresented in the student body, said she was “very surprised” that Georgetown was considered the fifth best U.S. school for blacks.
“What concerned me about the article was [that] there was no mention of why this university is considered above the rest to be great for African Americans,” she said. “I feel like more information and insight to the black experience at this university would have greatly helped me understand this ranking.”
-Ben Buchanan contributed to this report.