September 6, 2017

Princeton University’s Admission Stats Reveal Mixed Progress, Engineering Boom

By William Uhl

Princeton University has published historical admissions statistics for the past several years, reaching as far back as 1970 for some categories. Since then, Princeton has made progress over the past few decades in both its demographics and departments. However, digging into the data reveals that not every group is much closer to equitable representation.

[infogram id=”fca4ab17-2f9a-478f-95e6-9c7716de5657″ prefix=”Y4p” format=”interactive” title=”Admissions Demographics at Princeton University”]

Princeton University has made clear strides for racial and ethnic diversity in some areas, while some have changed little since nearly half a century ago. The class of 1980 was over 80 percent white and 60 percent male, with 838 white students compared to 172 non-white students. At the time, that was close to representative of the national racial and ethnic demographics of the United States: 79.6 percent of America self-reported as non-Hispanic white in 1980’s census.

Since then, the white proportion of Princeton’s students has nearly halved: 44 percent of the class of 2017 is white, and the class of 2021 is set to go as low as 41 percent. Asian Americans have largely filled the gap, going from 51 students in the class of 1980 to 284 in the class of 2017. That number is also evenly comprised of Asian American men and women, with only a 16-student gap between them.

However, progress has been slower for others. Black and Hispanic Americans made up 18.1 percent of the 1980 U.S. population, but only 11 percent of the class of 1980 at a combined 115 students. In the class of 2017, 102 black students are graduating С only 21 more than 47 years ago, and almost making up 8 percent of the class. Hispanic students have seen more progress over time, with 113 Hispanic students graduating in 2017 compared to just 34 in 1980. The 152 graduating international students and 284 Asian Americans still dwarf both.

The gender gap at Princeton in undergraduate degrees has largely narrowed, though the difference is not equally spread. Enrollment in the Artium Baccalaureus (Bachelor of Arts) program is the most female-dominated degree, with 519 women and 451 men in the class of 2017. Compared to 1970, it reflects both
the increased female acceptance into Princeton University as well as a decrease in male interest in the degree: only eight female students graduated with an AB degree in 1970, as opposed to 620 males.

Most of that male undergraduate interest seems to have transferred to the Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree, which has nearly doubled its male enrollment from 102 to 197 since 1970, despite total male enrollment at Princeton remaining roughly the same since then. Females seeking BSEs have increased just as much, with just one student in 1973 to 113 in this year’s graduating class. However, the degree remains male dominated by a nearly 2:1 ratio.

Both graduate degree programs – for Master’s and Ph.D. degrees – have a similar gender gap that has struggled to close in the past few decades. While the graduate program has continued to accept more and more applicants, female enrollment has continued to hover at roughly 60 percent of male enrollment since the year 2000.

Though Princeton has 31 non-engineering majors and five engineering majors, more and more student attention is focused on the engineering majors – the class of 2017 had 75 percent more engineering students than 2007, while the non-engineering majors only saw a 12 percent increase. Though the attention is somewhat spread between all the majors, Princeton University’s Department of Computer Science gets the lion’s share of the attention. “A large portion of that growth in the engineering school can be attributed to student interest in computer science, and perhaps to a somewhat lesser extent in operations research and financial engineering,” said Rebekah Massengill, associate dean of the college. With 99 computer science graduates, it was the third largest department, right behind the Woodrow Wilson School and the Economics department. That may change in the next few years – the Department of Computer Science has more than tripled its enrollment in the past decade.

Many of the non-engineering majors have experienced the opposite, like the Politics department, which garnered 23 fewer degrees than in 2008, or Religion, which conferred 20 degrees – 41 percent of 2008’s degree count. This is in part due to the Woodrow Wilson School removing its admission process. By opening up the Woodrow Wilson School’s doors, majors that may attract similar students – like politics – may have indirectly shrunk because of that.

However, decreasing enrollment numbers are not necessarily signs of waning student interest. “A lot of the growth and the new interest that we’ve seen among our students has been taking place in [the interdisciplinary program],” said Ms. Massengill. Though Princeton has no formal minors, the interdisciplinary programs allow for students to study other areas alongside their major. Those numbers are not public, but it casts a gentler light on the dwindled enrollment in many of Princeton’s non-engineering programs.