At Stanford, Aranda thinks the economy might have played a role. “As I recall, Stanford had some economic problems, like a lot of private universities did when the economy was struggling and peoples’ endowments were shrinking,” he says. “You know, it’s work to get underrepresented minority students to enroll, and so if you have fewer people or fewer person hours pursuing that effort, then it makes sense that your numbers would struggle.”
Katie Pandes, the Stanford Graduate School of Business’ assistant director of communications, attributes last year’s drop to natural ebb and flow. “What we saw for the class of 2014 was that U.S. minority representation reverted from a 20-year high of 27% (for the class of 2013) to a more typical level of 20%,” she says. “In general, we may see fluctuations in our statistics year over year because our candidate pool is always changing and our admission process doesn’t have quotas or targets, but evaluates each applicant entirely on his or her own merits.”
Lack of targets aside, Stanford appears to be trying fairly hard to recruit minority applicants. “Among our many information sessions, we have a number that specifically address the perspectives of US minority groups,” Pandes says. “We actively participate in events throughout the year hosted by our diversity outreach partners.” Those partners include big names like the Riordan MBA Fellows Program (the Riordan Programs hosted DMAC), Management Leaders for Tomorrow, the National Black MBA Association and the National Hispanic MBA Association.
Still, minority underrepresentation is a fact at Stanford and at business schools around the country, whether they’re in the top 10 or the top 50. What’s going on?
THE OPPORTUNITY GAP
The dearth of minority students in business schools isn’t a standalone problem. It starts well before students hit their mid-twenties and early thirties, when most people begin applying to MBA programs.
Statistics on the opportunity gap in education aren’t difficult to find. In 2011, Education Week reported that in California, black students are six times more likely than white students to attend schools in the state’s lowest-performing third. Latinos only have it marginally better: they’re four times as likely to attend one of those schools.
The consequences show up early on in test scores. In math and reading exams from 2009 and 2011—administered in the fourth and eighth grades by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—black and Latino students scored 20 points lower than white students. The difference represents about two grade levels.
While findings like these don’t speak for the entire population of U.S. minority students, they reveal an undeniable pattern: on the path to academic and career success, Americans don’t start at the same place. Eventually, that pattern reveals itself in business schools.
“YOU FEEL LIKE AN OUTCAST”
At the RPAA, Gonzalez is the director of the Saturday Business Academy, where she works with high school students from low income households. Their stories are closely tied to hers. “I grew up in South Central,” she explains. “Like, straight, you know, gunshots in front of my house—someone died in front of my house. There’s still gunshots on the rails. I grew up in a really, really—I had to drop down because of drive-bys in an era where gangs were at their peak.”
Gonzalez made it to UCLA. In the national conversation about race and academic achievement, college is often treated like the finish line. But the obstacles rarely stop there. Gonzalez worked throughout college—sometimes full-time—and in her first two years, her GPA suffered. She lacked the savvy mentors many of her peers already seemed to have.
Nancy Lopez, the director of programming at the RPAA and a soon-to-be business school applicant, had similar experiences at UC-Berkeley. “It was definitely a culture shock,” she says.
Lopez is from Inglewood, CA. When you search the city’s name on Google, three of the first four related terms are “crime,” “police department” and “ghetto.” She attended a high school for the city’s “best and brightest”; in her class of 200, she was one of 45 graduates and one of two students to receive both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree. But in college, she discovered that the playing field was markedly different. “What is the best at Inglewood isn’t comparable to the best for kids who come from like, a private school or have had different types of resources,” she says. “From the get-go, you kind of feel a little bit—you know, you feel like an outcast. Different.”