Note on the Geographical Origins of Entering Classes

Note on the Geographical Origins of Entering Classes

From its founding in 1889 through WW II, Barnard classes consisted primarily of residents of New York City, with a majority of them prepared at one of the City’s public high schools.  Nearby towns within the New York Metropolitan region (Nassau, Westchester, Rockland Counties) and northern New Jersey also fell within the College’s recruitment region. Negligible numbers came  from further afield, that is the rest of the northeast or beyond.

An effort in the 1920s to nationalize the student body (and limit the proportion of New York City residents) did modestly reduce the percentage of students from New York City, though this effort was suspended in 1930s  in face of more pressing need brought on by the Great Depression to maintain enrollments at sustainable levels. The absence of any additions to the College’s dormitory capacity between 1925 and 1960 also limited the College attracting more numbers of students from outside commuting range. By the 1940s Barnard students from the outer boroughs of New York City outnumbered Manhattanites.

Barnard College in 1950s remained primarily a commuter’s school, with residential students making up only about one-third of the student body. Barnard’s inclusion among  the Seven Sisters since 1928 1928 did not mean that it shared the demographic character of her richer, less urban-embedded siblings.  Barnard’s students into the 1960s were more likely than the other Sisters  to be from immigrant families, more likely to be  the first in their families to have attended college, less likely to be a legacy, and more likely to be either Jewish or Catholic. In the absence of sufficient dormitory space to accommodate the entire student body, a majority of Barnard students still commuted for all or most of their college years, a consideration that for many Barnard students of limited financial means made college-going affordable.

As recently as the late 1970s two of every three Barnard students came from the New York Metropolitan region, while students from outside the northeast made up less than 15% of most classes. This changed in the 1980s, when the share of Barnard students from the northeast  beyond the NY Metropolitan region became a larger presence on campus and while the share of students from outside the northeast continued to grow. This followed on more active recruiting  further afield and  efforts to find housing for more of its entering classes,  first by leasing  residential space throughout the Upper West Side in the 1970s and then by the construction of what came to be Sulzberger Tower, which opened in the fall of 1988.

Since the opening of Sulzberger Hall and the accompanying pledge to provide all admitted students with college residence, along with more extensive recruitment nationally, and the revival of New York City as a college site, the Barnard student body has become  increasingly geographically diverse.  In 2019 students hailing from states bordering on the Pacific Ocean make up a quarter of the entering class, about the same proportion as native Gothamites.