Minority Enrollment Falls At Top B-Schools

Denice Gonzalez is getting ready to apply to MBA programs. She’s facing the standard concerns–the essays, the GMAT–but the South Los Angeles native is also a little worried about the business school environment.

One incident from college comes to mind. “I was walking through the UCLA campus, worrying about how I was going to pay for the next quarter,” she says.

On her way, she overheard another student speaking with her parents on the phone. “She was just like, ‘Ugh, could you send me, like’—I don’t know—‘a couple thousand dollars? Because I really want that purse.’ And like, I kid you not, that was my first year at UCLA,” she sighs. “I went into my dorm, threw everything, and was like, ‘I’m going to drop out.’”

She attributes her eventual graduation to sheer stubbornness. “There are people who grew up privileged, and that’s just a part of life,” she says. “You can’t really dwell on that.”

Denice attended the Diversity MBA Admissions Conference (DMAC) earlier this August. The event is organized by the Riordan Programs Alumni Association (RPAA); the Riordan Programs prepare students from underserved communities for management careers. She calls the conference her comfort zone. “I have people from the Riordan Programs that I can always count on as a mentor,” she says. “For the smallest things—you know, what class should I take?—or the biggest things—like, I really want to drop out of this—and for them to tell me that I’m worth it and that it’s not going to happen.”

At that same conference, Consortium CEO Peter Aranda posed a challenging question on minority enrollment. The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management is the largest diversity network of its kind, aiming to increase the number of black, Native American and Latino students in top business schools. But enrollment isn’t rising as fast as Aranda would like. “Why do we even have to have this conversation?” he asks. “Why does the Consortium need to exist? From the perspective of our mission, I would love to see this organization go away because it becomes irrelevant.”

Right now, the Consortium is anything but. According to Aranda’s data, the overall enrollment of blacks, Latinos and Native Americans at top 10 MBA programs has shown little to no progress. In fact, he maintains, it has gone down by 47 students between 2003 and 2010, attributable in part to declines at several top schools, including Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Of course, these numbers fluctuate from year to year. At Harvard Business School, for example, the number of underrepresented minorities this year is 219 out of a total enrollment of slightly more than 1800 MBAs. But it has varied over the past ten years from a low of 182 in 2004 to a high of 225 in 2009.

Underrepresented Minorities At Harvard Business School

Source: Harvard Business School

Source: Harvard Business School

What’s largely occurring is an unspoken shift in the meaning of diversity. Years ago, the word was commonly thought to mean blacks, Latinos and Native Americans. Increasingly, admission officers think of diversity more broadly and include in their thinking international students as well as Asian Americans. That change in mindset has eased the pressure on many schools to more aggressively recruit traditional minorities.

Aranda noted that UC-Berkeley, a Consortium member, might still be seeing the consequences of California’s Proposition 209. Approved in 1996, the proposition banned public universities from considering race, sex and ethnicity in admissions. As for the rest of the numbers, he doesn’t know what to make of them. “I’m not quite sure what’s behind that,” he confesses. “In some cases, I think the smaller schools have been affected by pressure on GMAT scores, but the larger schools should be better able to absorb a wider range of GMAT scores.”

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