The CUNY Sociodemographic Map of NYC Part II: Race and Ethnicity Revisited

Read Part 1

In the Fall of 2014, as the first research activity of the new Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center, we embarked on a student-led project we are calling the CUNY Map of NYC. This is actually a series of maps that we will be working on throughout this semester, several of which will be the work of students in a dozen courses at CUNY campuses. These are student planned, researched, and designed, and we do not yet know what the students will come up with. Some projects will likely be based on data from the U.S. Census or other publicly available data, some may be artistic, creative, experimental. From the quantitative to the most abstract, all will document, visualize, and even sonify the relationship of CUNY’s distinctive network of unique, individual, and yet interconnected campuses and their surrounding communities.

As a doctoral student in Earth and Environmental Science, I have been pursuing research on the relationship among poverty, income inequality, race and ethnicity, and negative impacts from pollution. I’ve also explored the relationship between these sociodemographic characteristic and access to resources such as parks, green spaces, community gardens, health care facilities, and supermarkets. In our formative discussions of the Futures Initiative leading up to our launch in the Fall of 2014, we began wondering if we could use similar techniques to those that I’ve used to explore the relationships between communities, pollution, and access to resources in the past, but this time looking at CUNY campuses as a public good, as a public resource which neighboring communities may benefit from. At that point, I embarked on what would become the first sociodemographic research project contributing to the CUNY map that applies some of the same social science and geography methodologies that I have used in previous research to try to analyze and visualize the interactions CUNY has with its closest communities.

When we began this research, we did not know that we would be publishing it amid a lot of political or even ideologically-informed discussion–some of it controversial, some of it simply erroneous and later corrected–over whether CUNY is still serving the diverse needs of New York City communities after a system-wide overhaul began in 2000. When I began working with the Census data back in October of 2014, I would have never expected that the release of our research findings would coincide with a political firestorm over whether or not CUNY was sacrificing diversity for quality. Furthermore, because the process—accessing Census data research, cleaning that data, analyzing it, mapping it in a geographic information system, and using a spatial analyst tool like proximity buffer analysis—is a long process that requires careful attention, I did not even know what the results of our research and spatial analysis looked like until the end of January 2015. With social science and environmental science research, you never know the results of your analysis until you actually do the work. There was a chance that our research would confirm the critiques being made by journalists about CUNY, but that is not what we observed from our analysis.

Last week, as part of the ongoing CUNY Map of NYC, I published the first of these CUNY Map contributions with the CUNY Sociodemographics Map of New York City: Part I – Race and Ethnicity.

One of the most important findings from that initial research was that CUNY colleges tend to have much greater racial and ethnic diversity than their neighboring communities. This is significant given that recent criticism of the two-tiered community college and senior college system at CUNY has driven many to question whether five of the senior colleges—Baruch, Hunter, Brooklyn, Queens, and City—are still providing equitable access to New York’s diverse communities.

It is worth reiterating that in the CUNY Sociodemographics Map project we found that across all of the senior colleges (including the five above), there is a greater percentage of Hispanics, non-Hispanic blacks, and non-Hispanic Asians enrolled than the percentages of those racial and ethnic groups in the populations living in the neighborhoods closest to each of the senior college campuses.


Based on claims that have been made that these five CUNY senior colleges are serving fewer black and Hispanic students, I wanted to follow up on my initial race and ethnicity post with a focus specifically on the five senior colleges that have received criticism. In each of these five cases, the student enrollment percentages are still more racially and ethnically diverse than the racial and ethnic characteristics of the surrounding neighborhoods.

Baruch College

Baruch College has a much higher percentage of non-Hispanic Asians enrolled relative to the percentages of non-Hispanic Asians in the neighborhood around campus, and it also has larger proportions of non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanics enrolled relative to the neighborhood community characteristics.Slide1

Brooklyn College

Brooklyn College has higher percentages of Hispanics, non-Hispanic Asians, and non-Hispanic whites than the surrounding community. Some of the areas located near Brooklyn College remain highly segregated, which is why nearly half of the population surrounding Brooklyn College is non-Hispanic black. See more on segregation in New York City below.




The City College of New York

Of all of the colleges, both senior and junior in the CUNY system, the striking thing about the enrollment numbers at City College is just how evenly distributed they seem to be. The four major ethnic and racial groups included are all represented between 20% and 32% of the student body, with Hispanics making up the largest segment of the student body. There are more Hispanics, more non-Hispanic Asians, and more non-Hispanic whites enrolled relative to the proportion of racial and ethnic groups in the neighborhood around City College. As with Brooklyn College, a little more than half of the neighborhood surrounding City College is non-Hispanic Black. Central and northern Harlem, where City College is located, remains one of the most segregated black areas in New York City today.Slide3

A Note on Segregation in New York City:

Unique to both City College and Brooklyn College is that these campuses are located near what are still some of the most racially segregated black communities in New York City. In segregation terms, I have analyzed New York City using 2010 U.S. Census tract data to calculate two popular segregation metrics—the isolation index and the dissimilarity index. New York has an isolation index of about 57.9 and a dissimilarity index of about 82.2. Higher values on these indexes indicated that a group is more isolated from other groups in the geographic study area and that they are highly concentrated in one area. For more on segregation in New York City see The Persistence of Segregation in the Metropolis: New Findings from the 2010 Census.

See the map below which highlights just how segregated black communities remain in New York City. Note the locations of Brooklyn College and City College.

NYCnonhispblack copy

Some may point out that Brooklyn and City College have smaller percentages of non-Hispanic blacks enrolled than the surrounding communities, but that is because the surrounding communities are still so highly segregated. To have similar percentages between student enrollment and the surrounding community in these areas would result in very little racial/ethnic diversity at all. What the enrollment numbers reflect again is diversity: there is a more diverse student enrollment at City College and at Brooklyn College than might be expected if we were looking at neighborhood characteristics alone.

Hunter College

Hunter College has higher percentages of Hispanics, non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic Asians relative to the surrounding community which is primarily non-Hispanic white. Slide2

Queens College

Queens College has an enrollment that reflects its proximity to one of the more predominantly non-Hispanic Asian areas of New York City. The percentage of non-Hispanic blacks enrolled is roughly the same relative to the neighboring community, and the proportion of Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites enrolled are both higher than the proportion of those groups in the surrounding community.


CUNY’s Public Higher Education Advantages for Diversity

It is incorrect to say that CUNY is failing our diverse communities in New York City. On the contrary, just the opposite is true. As an affordable and accessible public higher education institution, CUNY’s myriad of colleges are serving the largest and most diverse student body in New York City. As was illustrated in my earlier blog post on race and ethnicity of enrolled students at CUNY based off of enrollment data from the CUNY Office for Institutional Research and Assessment, 27.4% of CUNY’s total enrolled student body is white, 24.8% is black, 18.9% is Asian, and 28.7% is Hispanic.

For comparison, have a look at CUNY’s diverse enrollment alongside some of the private higher education institutions in New York City. Although each institution’s self-reported figures include different categories, and although in some cases the official reports do not account for 100% of the student population, we can still see differences:

At New York University, according to their enrollment demographics for Fall 2013, whites represent 38.5% of the student body, blacks represent 4.8%, Asians represent 14.5%, and Hispanics represent 8.1%. At Columbia University, according to their enrollment headcount for 2011, whites represent 38.23% of the student body, blacks represent 5.3%, Asians represent 11.9%, and Hispanics represent 7.5%. At Fordham University, according to their at a glance ethnic breakdown, Caucasians represent 68.6% of the enrolled student body, African-Americans 4.3%, Asian/Pacific Islanders 8.8%, and Hispanics 14%.

CUNY enrolls a notably higher percentage of Hispanics, Asians, and blacks than these private institutions in the city. Across the CUNY system there are educational opportunities for a diverse student body.

[Revised: February 23, 2015]

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About Michael Dorsch

Michael is a doctoral student specializing in geography in the Earth and Environmental Sciences program at The Graduate Center, CUNY. He teaches in the Department of Geography at Hunter College, CUNY and also conducts research with the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities and the Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay. His research interests include using tools from geographic information systems and techniques from analytic cartography to visualize social and environmental inequities related to negative environmental exposures from energy production and industrial/post-industrial sites. Michael blogs on issues related to society/environment interactions, and his full CV is available at