Antwan Williams, a senior at Roosevelt High School, fills out a college enrollment application at his school in Washington, Nov. 14, 2013. The schools was hosting a "sit-in" to get high school students who might not otherwise go to college to apply to college. President Barack Obama’s goal is that by 2020, America will again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. More low-income and first-generation students must get a degree to reach it. The first hurdle is getting these students to apply. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

A senior fills out a college enrollment application. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Harvard College is reporting a record number of applicants for its Class of 2020, and African Americans constitute one-tenth of the higher education hopefuls.

Applications for admission numbered at 39,044 this year, the Ivy League institution reported. That is a 4.6 percent increase from last year and a 246 percent increase from 40 years ago, when Harvard first accepted co-ed applications.

“We have come a long way since 1976, the first year a single admissions committee reviewed applications from both men and women,” William R. Fitzsimmons, Harvard College dean of admissions and financial aid, said in a statement. The record number of applicants, he added, “reflects the effectiveness of Harvard’s outreach to outstanding students everywhere.”

The increase in applications may also reflect the college’s attempt to ease the financial burden on those potential students. Recent statistics show that a college education is becoming increasingly expensive, which may discourage many from pursuing higher education. From 2007 to 2015, for example, college loan debt exploded from $516 billion to $1.2 trillion, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Approximately 25 percent of students who take out loans for college are 90 days delinquent, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Harvard waived the application fees of nearly 25 percent of this year’s applicants due to financial hardship. If those students are accepted, they will likely be eligible for the school’s financial aid program.

Twenty percent of Harvard’s current undergraduates are from families with incomes of less than $65,000 a year. The college pays all tuition for those students, including room and board. More than half of Harvard’s undergraduates receive some sort of financial aid.

The availability of resources has helped remove barriers to an education at Harvard and has made it possible for people of different backgrounds to apply to the college, officials said.

“Harvard’s Financial Aid Initiative (HFAI) has resonated strongly with students who never thought Harvard was a possibility,” said Sally C. Donahue, the Griffin director of financial aid at Harvard. “Only about 20,000 students applied before HFAI began over a decade ago. With nearly 40,000 applicants today, Harvard students now come from a much broader array of economic, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds than at any time in Harvard’s history.”

African-Americans comprise 10.6 percent of 2016 applicants to Harvard. In 2015, 241 Black students were admitted to the college and 75 percent of them decided to enroll, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. African-American students account for 11.6 percent of the Class of 2019.