The Mirror

The Atlantic Has Some Explaining To Do

Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger

The City University of New York (CUNY) is not happy with a recent story in The Atlantic entitled, “When High Achievers Have No Place To Go.”

Here’s the damning letter posted on the university’s website Wednesday. Jay Hershenson, Vice Chancellor for University Relations for CUNY, addresses Atlantic editor-in-chief James Bennet. The story in question was published Tuesday and, for now, remains on the site.

I’ve sought comment from The Atlantic and will report back accordingly.

Dear Editor in Chief Bennet:

This is a request for the withdrawal and review for corrections of “When High Achievers Have No Place to Go”, which was published today on The Atlantic website, replete with major factual errors and mischaracterizations.

First and foremost, the headline and secondary headline are untrue. The CUNY system guarantees admission to all high school graduates in one of 20 undergraduate colleges. None of the students profiled in the piece were “locked out of the City University of New York.” All four were admitted to a CUNY college. Two of the four were admitted to multiple four year colleges. So both the headline and the secondary headline are factually wrong.

Particularly inaccurate is the fact that the piece leads with the story of an individual, Mr. Kenneth Rosario, with two photographs of him, and with ten lead paragraphs in a row describing in great detail his alleged plight, with quotes like,”I killed myself, for what? If I couldn’t even get into the top CUNY schools, what was it for?”

This is inaccurate for the following reasons: Mr. Rosario was admitted to his first choice CUNY College, The City College of New York, to the prestigious Andrew Grove School of Engineering at City College. CUNY records indicate that his acceptance email was viewed. He declined the offer. He was also admitted to his second choice, the New York City College of Technology, and to his third choice, Brooklyn College, and to his fourth choice, Lehman College. He declined those offers as well.

He was not accepted, as the piece indicates by his fifth choice, Hunter College, and Baruch College, his last choice. However, the article never mentions that Hunter and Baruch were his two last choices and instead pretends that “he was locked out of The City University of New York”. In addition, within the ten paragraphs, Mr. Rosario’s interest in electrical engineering is referenced. Neither Hunter nor Baruch offer engineering programs; City College does and that four year college was his first choice—never mentioned in the article.

Mr. Bennet, permit me to suggest that when the first ten paragraphs of an article in a respected publication like The Atlantic are in error, that alone should serve as sufficient grounds for the withdrawal and correction of the piece.

Nevertheless, please read on.

The article paints an inaccurate picture of declining minority enrollments at CUNY highly selective colleges. The authors of the piece received enrollment data from CUNY in October, 2014 indicating that new Black student enrollment increased by 1 percent over the period from 2008-2009 to 2013-14. Hispanic new student enrollment increased by 5% over the same period.

In addition, since the fall of 2013, the upward trend has continued. The number of Black students admitted to CUNY’s highly selective senior colleges has increased by 15% and the number of Hispanic students has increased by 23%. The representation of both groups has also risen as a percentage of all new students:

The article states that “overcrowded two-year community colleges have filled up with more black and Latino students”. Over the last decade the percentage of Black students at the CUNY community colleges has decreased by 4 percentage points while Asian students has increased by 2 percentage points. In fact, there are no references in the article to Asian students existing at CUNY community colleges, even though during the last decade, Asian freshman enrollments increased there by 69%.

The article gives the false impression that the highly selective colleges of CUNY rely solely on the SAT for admission decisions. In fact, the admission process takes into account multiple factors, including the amount of college preparatory coursework a student has completed; the student grades in those courses, and the student’s scores on the New York State Regents exams, if available. There are other facts that would have provided a more complete picture, but the errors cited above stand out for their gravity.

CUNY is a unified and integrated system of senior and community colleges and graduate and professional schools. It is a travesty to falsely describe the system as locking out immigrant and minority students when CUNY is experiencing record student enrollments: 274,000 degree credit students now attend CUNY, hailing from over 200 countries. And CUNY serves another 240,000 adult and continuing education students annually. There is no system in the country more diverse and more accessible.

In the interests of fairness, please consider our request.

Jay Hershenson

Senior Vice Chancellor for University Relations and

Secretary of the Board of Trustees

The City University of New York

UPDATE: The Atlantic has issued a correction at the bottom of the story.

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UPDATE: In addition to the above correction, an Atlantic editor, Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, provided a lengthy explanation in the comment section. You have to scroll a bunch of times to find it, but here it is:

We thank Mr. Hershenson for his letter, which he also emailed us separately. We’ll address all the points he raises below.

The first issue he mentions—the fact that Kenneth Rosario was admitted to the other CUNY schools—was indeed an important omission. Once we became aware of this last night, we added that information to the piece, along with a correction note. (We also learned more about why Rosario chose to study engineering instead of business, and those details can also now be found in the piece.) We regret our original omission of this significant information.

Mr. Hershenson was also correct that our original display copy was misleading. The story is about high-achieving minorities who are unable to get into CUNY’s top colleges. The original headline and subheading suggested that these students can’t gain admission to any CUNY college, not just to the top ones. We’ve changed the display copy to better align with the story.

The other points Mr. Hershenson mentions do not appear to be issues. The details are as follows:

1) He writes: “The article paints an inaccurate picture of declining minority enrollments at CUNY highly selective colleges. The authors of the piece received enrollment data from CUNY in October, 2014 indicating that new Black student enrollment increased by 1 percent over the period from 2008-2009 to 2013-14. Hispanic new student enrollment increased by 5% over the same period. The representation of both groups has also risen as a percentage of all new students.”

The piece includes the point Mr. Hershenson makes here. However, it also points out that this increase in new black and Latino students has come in the form of transfer students. This article is about high-achieving high schoolers who are unable to gain admissions to the freshman class at schools like Baruch. Here’s the relevant excerpt from the piece:

“CUNY officials interviewed for this story reiterated this position, asserting that large numbers of transfers have led to an increase on average in the number of black and Latino students attending CUNY’s top-tier colleges. ‘Access to public higher education involves more than one stream of entry,’ said Michael Arena, CUNY’s director of communications and marketing.

“But a close look at CUNY’s statistics tells a different story. The total student body is indeed larger now than it was a decade ago, as is the number of those who have graduated with bachelor’s degrees of all races. But the percentage of black graduates in the mix—even once transfer students are included—has steadily declined. Between 2008 and 2013, the numbers of transfer students to the highly selective campuses increased slightly for African Americans (by 317), and more than doubled for Latinos (by 644). But, these transfer increases did not make up for the huge declines each group sustained in the freshman classes. Meanwhile, whites and Asians continue to command the majority of the transfer spots—on average 59 percent—at the top five colleges.”

2) He writes: “The article states that ‘overcrowded two-year community colleges have filled up with more black and Latino students’. Over the last decade the percentage of Black students at the CUNY community colleges has decreased by 4 percentage points while Asian students has increased by 2 percentage points. In fact, there are no references in the article to Asian students existing at CUNY community colleges, even though during the last decade, Asian freshman enrollments increased there by 69%.”

There are two key points to note here. First, the line Mr. Hershenson quotes speaks only of greater raw *numbers* of black and Latino students enrolling at CUNY’s community colleges each year. It doesn’t refer to percentages. So the point would be accurate on that basis alone.

However, it’s worth noting that the reason black students account for a lower percentage of these community colleges is that overall enrollment has increased. And the primary reason enrollment has increased is that more Latino students are attending. In the fall of 2004, as CUNY’s website reports, Latinos accounted for 31% of all community college students. Now they account for 39%.

In other words, raw numbers of both black and Latino students are rising at CUNY’s community colleges. But if the *percentage* of black students has gone down, it’s because the percentage of Latino students (and to a lesser extent, Asian students) has gone up. (The percentage of white students, meanwhile, has gone down over the past 10 years, from 21% to 16%.)

Anyone interested in reviewing this data can find it here: http://www.cuny.edu/irdatabook…

3) “The article gives the false impression that the highly selective colleges of CUNY rely solely on the SAT for admission decisions. In fact, the admission process takes into account multiple factors, including the amount of college preparatory coursework a student has completed; the student grades in those courses, and the student’s scores on the New York State Regents exams, if available. There are other facts that would have provided a more complete picture, but the errors cited above stand out for their gravity.”

This is indeed what CUNY officials told the authors, and they quote this in the piece. They then go on to cite other information that suggests SAT scores are playing a more significant role than they did in the past, but the points Mr. Hershenson mentions here were certainly covered in the paragraph below:

“CUNY officials argue that it makes its admissions decisions using a variety of indicators. ‘SAT scores are just one of the factors that CUNY colleges look at in making freshman admissions decisions, along with grades and academic coursework,’ says Wrigley, the interim vice chancellor and provost. ‘CUNY engages in continuing discussions of admission practices and the profile of the student body.'”

We believe this addresses everything Mr. Hershenson mentioned in his comment above. Once again, we apologize for originally including a misrepresentative headline and omitting Rosario’s other acceptances.