Number of black freshmen at University of Maryland drops sharply, to eight-year low

The number of black students who enrolled at the University of Maryland this fall dropped sharply, according to data released by the school Wednesday.

African-American representation in the new freshman class dropped to at least an eight-year low, the data show. Just 7.3 percent of the new freshman class, roughly 340 out of 4,700 students, is black.

Several racist incidents on campus in recent years — including the killing last year of black Bowie State University student Richard W. Collins III, allegedly by a white former University of Maryland student, now being prosecuted as a hate crime — have increased tension and fears among current and prospective students. University officials acknowledge that these events likely played a role in this fall’s enrollment numbers.

University of Maryland freshman enrollment

“We would be naive to think that the tragic incidents of the last two years on our campus have not contributed to our African-American student enrollment decline this year,” vice president and provost Mary Ann Rankin said in a statement. “We must address the concerns about campus climate and hate-bias incidents that UMD and many of our peers are facing.”

The university pledged in a news release Wednesday to double down on efforts to make its student body more diverse.

University President Wallace Loh plans to appoint an Enrollment Action Council tasked with ensuring “all eligible Maryland students can access the extraordinary educational resources available to them at their flagship university.”

The day before this announcement, Loh shared his plans to retire at the end of this school year amid the fallout from the death of 19-year-old football player Jordan McNair.

The university also has struggled to retain a leader to oversee its inclusion and diversity efforts. Roger Worthington, the most recent person to serve as chief diversity officer, stepped down from the role in July after just one year. A national search for his replacement is underway.

The university intends to hire a coordinator of admission and diversity initiatives to enhance recruitment efforts. And it plans to increase financial aid offerings, thanks to an ongoing $1.5 billion fundraising campaign.

The Baltimore Sun reported earlier this year that the state’s flagship public university enrolls disproportionately few black students, compared to the state’s population.

While that’s true at flagship universities across the nation, analysts say the longstanding disparity at Maryland is particularly stark. Black students made up 36 percent of the state’s high school graduates in 2015, but only 12 percent of the freshman class at College Park that fall.

Just six states — Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Delaware and Alabama — had a larger gap, according to an analysis by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit news organization that focuses on education.

The university often touts diversity as a strength, and while black student representation lags, minority groups made up roughly 39 percent of this fall’s new freshman class.

White students made up just over half of the freshman class, black students about about 7 percent, Asian students represented about 20 percent and Hispanic students about 7 percent. About 4 percent are foreign students, who come from 16 countries.

There was a large increase this fall in the percentage of students whose race is unknown. The university did not provide an explanation for this.

It’s unclear how the scandal surrounding McNair’s death could affect recruiting for next year’s freshman class. The university has been embroiled in controversy since the 19-year-old offensive lineman fell ill during a practice May 29, and died of heatstroke two weeks later.

The first deadline for prospective students to apply was Thursday.

trichman@baltsun.com

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