There were a few reasons for the UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business to be happy with its recently released MBA Class of 2020 profile. At 291 students, it’s the biggest class in school history; the average GMAT (726) ticked up a point, the average undergrad GPA (3.66) stayed steady, and the school reached its highest percentage of female students (43%) since 2014 — even as overall applications dropped 7.5% from last year.
But in one big way, the Berkeley Haas fall 2018 intake disappoints — and it’s a major disappointment that has school officials flummoxed and students and alumni shocked, angered, and calling for change. African-American student enrollment has fallen off a cliff: Just six African-American students are enrolled in the Haas MBA program this fall.
Six students in a class of 291 is 2.1%; more importantly, it represents a 68% drop in two years, from an all-time high of 19 enrollees in 2016.
So what is happening? The problem is not in applications. In fact, the number of African-American and other black applicants to Haas had grown steadily for the last 10 years, according to school officials, before dropping in 2018 along with applicants from most other demographics. No, the real problem for Haas has been enrolling the African-American students it admits: In the past five years the Haas MBA program has admitted between 23 and 39 African Americans and enrolled an average of about 11 (the 10-year average is around eight). The school has a yield problem: to admit 27 African-American students in 2018 and have only six enroll translates to a 22.2% yield rate, far lower than the overall Haas yield of 50.9%.
A DIVERSITY DRIVE THAT HAS GONE SIDEWAYS, AND A CALL FOR CHANGE
You wouldn’t know Haas has a problem just by looking at its class profile. In fact, Haas is more transparent than most schools, listing different stats for under-represented minorities (11%) and U.S. minorities (38%), the latter of which includes Asian students. (Some schools are happy to conflate the two, thus artificially inflating their diversity cred.)
But there is indeed a problem — and Haas students saw it coming. That’s why, in 2016, they launched the Race Inclusion Initiative to address race and ethnicity issues and improve the Haas experience for underrepresented minorities (URMs).
The effort was timed to be part of the school’s then-new strategic plan. Angela Steele, who finished her MBA that year, helped found the RII; she tells Poets&Quants it was initially a great success, as organizers enlisted faculty mentors and conducted surveys, focus groups, and roundtables to find areas that needed change, all in an atmosphere of support and encouragement from the Haas School and the wider university. Contemporaneous efforts emerged, too, including a student-led course called Dialogues on Race, a Diversity Digest newsletter, a Haas Perspectives Blog, and a Humans of Haas podcast.
In the fall of 2016, Haas enrolled its most-ever African-American MBA students: 19. But since then, Steele says, the drive for diversity and inclusion at Haas has gone sideways.
“We saw a lot of progress under the admissions leadership of Stephanie Fujii and Erin Kellerhals,” says Steele, who served as VP of diversity on the MBA Association as a student and who has continued doing admissions diversity work after graduation, in particular through the Haas Alumni Diversity Council (HADC), an advisory body. “Every class since 2016 has carried on that work, continuing to do research and make recommendations, but one of the major issues at Haas is that they have not made a commitment to diversity and inclusion in the way that we see many other schools doing.”
A CALL FOR A NEW ADMISSIONS OFFICER
Steele emphasizes that she does not speak for the HADC — she and others just “care deeply about the current and future experiences of students at Haas.” It’s that concern that has led them to call for more than a change in how the school attracts and maintains African-American student talent. They’re calling for bigger changes in admissions leadership, too.
“Something needs to be done,” says Steele, one of P&Q’s 2016 MBAs To Watch who is currently senior project manager at NewCourtland Senior Services in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “The reality is, students and alumni have been doing a lot of work for the school quietly in the background for a long time, and we are still facing a reality where in two years, if trends continue, there could be no black students in the full-time MBA program at Haas.
“We are calling for a director of diversity in admissions and an Admissions Diversity Committee. Addressing black enrollment must be a top priority for both, along with developing a DNI strategy with the dean. And we are calling for the hiring of an admissions director of diversity, with demonstrated experience and success in enrolling racially diverse classes.” Steele points to some peer schools, including Michigan Ross, Northwestern Kellogg, and the Wharton School, where admissions officers of color show the schools’ commitment to diversity. “That is sorely lacking at Haas, and the school is relying on a lot of student labor and alumni labor to do the work of what an admissions officer should be doing.”
Olivia Anglade, also a 2016 Haas MBA and current member of the HADC, agrees that Haas’ admissions leadership must be held to account. A new admissions director of diversity should create a partnership between staff, students, and all stakeholders “to increase transparency and accountability.” And he or she could reverse the self-defeating trend in which Haas finds itself, where prospective students see a negative atmosphere based on the absence of a strong community, perpetuating that absence.
“There is a network effect now — this idea that, ‘If there are only 10 black students in the class before me, what should I be thinking about my community and who is going to be around me when I go?'” says Anglade, a co-founder of the RII who also worked in student government as the VP of admissions, in which role she worked closely as the student liaison between current and prospective students. She’s now a San Francisco-based consultant for Boston Consulting Group. “I would say that you had the opposite effect, you had a positive effect, in the Class of 2018. The 19 of them could see each other and say, ‘Come to Haas and meet folks like ourselves.'”
HAAS ADMISSIONS DIRECTOR: HAAS NEEDS MORE SCHOLARSHIPS
Morgan Bernstein became Haas’ executive director of full-time MBA admissions in March 2016. While some have pointed out that her tenure has coincided with the decline in African-American representation in the MBA program, she responds by noting that African Americans make up only about 7% of Graduate Management Admission Test takers, adding that over the last 10 years Haas’ average enrollment of African-American students was only around eight. In other words, the numbers have never been stellar — but Bernstein agrees that this year’s enrollment of six is troublingly low.
“It’s something that we’re trying to look into,” she tells P&Q. “Here at Haas, we have to figure out a way to encourage more African-American students to explore what business school can do for them.” Nor is the problem exclusively about black students: Haas’ diversity struggle extends to other URMs, as well. Latino enrollment in the full-time MBA this fall is 13 students, the highest in more than five years — but that’s out of 38 admits, a yield of just 34%. Native-American enrollment this fall is three. Last fall it was zero.
Among the challenges Haas faces in attracting and enrolling more African-American and other URM candidates to the MBA program: regional preference, Bernstein says, with West Coast schools at a disadvantage in drawing underrepresented minorities out of the New York metro area where they most heavily reside.
But that is not the only challenge.
“Peer schools have increased their scholarship packages compared to Haas, and so we have to figure out how to respond,” Bernstein says, noting that Haas awards no scholarships on the basis of race, ethnicity, citizenship, or gender. This helps explain the yield problem: A student receiving offers to multiple schools is far more likely to choose the one that offers financial assistance. “You know, all the schools are competing for the same small group of applicants, and so that makes it a really competitive process. But we know that scholarship offerings must increase.”