High-achieving low-income students of color are being boxed out of CUNY, New York’s city colleges.

Rosario’s experience is part of a demographic shift that has been under the public’s radar for the last decade and a half. As part of an aggressive system-wide overhaul that began in 2000, the top five CUNY colleges—Baruch, Hunter, Brooklyn, Queens, and City—have been raising admission standards and admitting fewer freshmen from New York City high schools. Over time, records show that a two-tier system has emerged. CUNY’s most prestigious colleges now favor a disproportionate number of Asian and white freshmen, while its overcrowded two-year community colleges have filled up with more black and Latino students.

This polarization was the subject of a 2012 report called “Unintended Impacts,” published by the Community Service Society, a prominent anti-poverty non-profit in New York. “We’re setting up a segregated system, which is going to cause problems and is very short sighted,” said the group’s president and CEO, David Jones. (Jones is also chairman of the board of The Nation Institute, the parent organization to the Investigative Fund, which helped support the research for this article.)

CUNY officials insist that the school is as committed as ever to its “deeply rooted tradition” of serving New York’s diverse needs. “CUNY provides educational opportunity to New Yorkers as a system, not as a group of colleges,” says Dr. Julia Wrigley, the interim vice chancellor and provost. She argues that the majority of graduates in the selective colleges don’t enter as freshman but as transfer students from other colleges who enter as sophomores, juniors, or seniors. “Transfer provides an important means of access,” Wrigley notes. Students transferring from other colleges are not required to meet SAT benchmarks.  

However, records show that only about half those transfer students come in from CUNY’s second-tier colleges or community colleges. The rest come from outside the system, including private schools from around the country and the world. It is unclear whether the students transferring in grew up in New York City, attending public high schools. Notably, the percentage of black and Latino students enrolled in the top tier CUNY schools is still declining, even with the influx of transfer students.

Read more at the Atlantic.