Minority Students Drive UNC-System Growth

Jan 22, 2016

The UNC-system saw its highest enrollment ever last fall, and data show minorities are driving the system's growth.

Overall system enrollment grew 1.3 percent to nearly 225,000 students. Minorities made up all the growth since 2014.

Undergraduate Latino enrollment grew 9 percent, and undergraduate multiracial enrollment increased 10 percent. White enrollment dropped slightly.

The number of black undergraduate students rose 2 percent—the first increase since 2009.

A UNC-system report says the racial make-up of the system's growth reflects the state's changing demographics.

"Speaking broadly," the report reads, "racial compositions of student populations reflect the historical mission and geographic location of institutions, as well as the changing population of North Carolina, where demographers project the majority of population growth will be non-whites."

Over the past 10 years, UNC-Charlotte's enrollment has grown 30 percent, the fastest of any campus. UNC-Charlotte also has the largest share of Latino students of any campus.

UNC-Wilmington and Western Carolina University are also rapidly growing campuses, each seeing growth greater than 10 percent over the last five years.

Despite minority gains, black, Latino and American Indian students remain underrepresented compared to their presence in the general population.  Latinos, for example, make up 12.5 percent of the state's population aged 18-34, but only 6.4 percent of UNC's 18-34 population.

Sam Lopez directs UNC-Charlotte's office of multicultural academic services. He says the gap often has to do with the high cost of college. A higher percentage of students of color come from low-income families than white students.

"The cost of attending university continues to rise," Lopez said. "The amount of financial aid hasn't grown as much as the cost has."

And, Lopez says, students of color are less likely to have parents that have gone to college and understand the application process.

"Many of those students from those populations—and many of their families—understand the importance of education, but it's really just because they don't have the information on how to access it," Lopez said.