One thousand seven hundred first-year students descended upon Duke’s Chapel Wednesday like a migrating flock of swallows, to borrow Dean Steve Nowicki’s apt metaphor from Convocation 2014. Like thousands of students before them, they sat as echoing speeches ushered them into Duke’s ranks. But unlike their predecessors, they marked unprecedented "firsts"—the highest admissions yield since 1979; the first class where more than half are students of color. What do these milestones mean, and are they cause for celebration?
Of the 2,697 students admitted to Duke’s Class of 2018, approximately 47.7 percent chose to enroll in the University, a Chronicle article reported. This yield is up two percent from the previous year, when 45.6 percent chose to enroll, and the year before when 42 percent signed on to become Blue Devils.
As laudatory as these statistics appear, however, they are not unconditional metrics of success. Although yield rates may reflect the pride and passion of the student body for their institution and increase the University’s standing in rankings like the US News and World report, they can be skewed by factors beyond academic quality. The record high acceptance of early decision admits, for example, invariably boosted Duke’s final yield number. This year, 47 percent of the class was accepted early decision, as compared to 44 percent last year and only 38 percent in 2012. Furthermore, Duke continues to lag behind its peer institutions in admissions yield. In the Class of 2018, 82 percent of students accepted to Harvard enrolled, 78.9 percent at Stanford, and 62.5 percent at the University of Pennsylvania. Though the record-high admissions yield at Duke is encouraging, it is important to seek improvement, not complacency.
Yet if record-high yield is a tenuous achievement with strings attached, the other Class of 2018 “first”—pioneering diversity—is an enormous step forward. Over 50 percent of the class are students of color, and 13 percent of the students are from overseas. Students hail from 48 states in the country and 47 countries around the world. Such diversity weaves unique perspectives inside and outside the classroom, enriching class discussions on The Reluctant Fundamentalist and debates at the dinner table. Duke’s mission statement strives to “promote a deep appreciation for the range of human difference and potential.” It is where students’ divergent experiences converge in their shared learning that understanding and exploration begins.
As Duke strives to increase diversity, however, it is important to note that diversity extends beyond race and geography. It is also differences in socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientation, political ideology, and religion, among others. Duke can continue to increase this multi-faceted diversity of its student body through programs like bolstering its financial aid, making it more accessible to a broader range of students. Yet students too have an obligation to take ownership of the unique fabric of Duke’s community—they should take the time to learn from one another, to challenge assumptions, and to question. It is within this lattice of diversity and inquiry—challenge and exploration—that Duke will make itself a place where students are excited to call home.