For decades, colleges have considered the race of applicants in admissions decisions. From next year, this could be restricted or even illegal, depending on the outcome of Supreme Court cases. So college admissions officers are scrambling to figure out what it would mean to enroll a diverse class of students if the law changes.
They say that would mean expanding recruiting efforts, doing more background checks on applicants and proactively offering spots to students before they even apply.
As the Supreme Court prepares to rule on two lawsuits challenging how Harvard University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill use race as a factor in their admissions, it will consider whether to overturn decades of precedent allowing some consideration of race. What is allowed has narrowed over time. Current law allows schools to take limited account of an applicant’s race, but not as a rigid limit or quota for minority applicants. Lawyers say the court could tighten its rules on how precisely schools can consider race — for example, requiring institutions to better document how they have followed race-neutral strategies — uphold the current rules, or ban race consideration altogether. The court is expected to hear the cases in its next term, which begins in October, and a decision is expected to be issued in June.
Many colleges say that students from diverse backgrounds enrich the educational experience and help prepare them for a world in which they will interact with people who are not like them. Past Supreme Court rulings have cited the educational benefits that come from diversity. But challengers say taking race into account in the school’s admissions process has resulted in discrimination against white and Asian applicants.
Some schools are looking into whether income could be used as a proxy for race. This would be an imperfect approach, given that race is unrelated to income level. Another possible move is to rethink admissions preferences for the children of former students, who in many cases are white and affluent. But this is undesirable for schools who fear losing grants.
Here are some other approaches to admissions that schools are considering.
Expand the funnel
If the Supreme Court’s decision prohibits consideration of race in admissions, universities may be able to improve the way they exploit groups of applicants.
“Most elite schools are fishing in the same pond,” says Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s University Excellence Program. “Outside their line of sight is a series of ponds they have to throw lines into.”
“We need to strategically diversify the flow in ways we haven’t done before.“
Member schools of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling build relationships with predominantly black and Latino churches and community centers in areas with large minority populations, says Angel Pérez, the organization’s executive director.
“We have to strategically diversify the stream in ways we haven’t done before,” he says.
Mr. Wyner says schools can also recruit community-to-college transition students. The University of California, Los Angeles made progress, as did Amherst College and Princeton University, according to the Aspen Institute survey.
Universities are likely to get the best results if they work with local schools to determine exactly which classes students need to take for a smooth transfer process, rather than just saying they’re willing to consider those students, researchers and the community say. leaders of groups working to increase college access for underrepresented minorities.
Get more context
Schools will have to look beyond high school grade point averages and test scores if race-based affirmative action is to go away, student diversity advocates say.
Federal data shows that high schools with high black and Hispanic enrollments are less likely than others to offer advanced math and science classes such as physics and calculus. Admissions officers and high school counselors are asking the question: Should only students with access to high-level instruction be considered for the most selective colleges? Or students who make the most of their limited resources?
More than 200 colleges and scholarship organizations already use the College Board’s Landscape tool. In addition to test scores, it provides neighborhood and high school information, such as whether an applicant’s area is suburban or rural and the proportion of students eligible for free or reduced lunch.
“It’s not a silver lining,” says Marco Dinovelli, assistant vice chancellor for undergraduate admissions at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. “But I think it adds some valuable context.”
For example, he says, if an applicant’s transcript shows two Advanced Placement classes, Landscape allows his team to see whether the teen’s school offered only two such classes — or whether most students took at least four, putting the applicant near the bottom of the scale. package.
Adding a few other data points — like the value of the owner-occupied homes an applicant lives in and what proportion of the area’s adults attended college — to numbers like income could help schools increase diversity without sacrificing academic qualifications, says Glenn Ellison, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studied Chicago’s use of race-neutral admissions in its selective high schools for test admissions.
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Learn from other textbooks
The nine states that have banned race-based affirmative action at public universities, including California and Texas, offer clues for schools elsewhere — notably that it could be difficult to maintain racial diversity at the same level as race-based policies .
California voters abolished race-based affirmative action in 1996 and upheld the decision in 2020. Black and Hispanic enrollment declined sharply in the late 1990s at schools such as the University of California, Berkeley, and UCLA.
Today, the student body is diverse, but the enrollment does not reflect the overall demographics of the state. Last fall, the UC system’s undergraduate enrollment was 22% Hispanic and 4.4% black, while in the 2020 census, California’s population was 39% Hispanic and 5.7% black. Asian students made up 31% of UC enrollment compared to 15% of the nation’s total population.
The UC system has invested tens of millions of dollars in strategies including targeting recruitment at low-income high schools, said Zachary Bleemer, an assistant professor of economics at Yale University who has studied enrollment trends at the University of California.
He also instituted a policy that effectively guaranteed the top 4% of students from any public school in California admission to most UC campuses. The goal was to encourage students at the top of minority-dominated schools with smaller resources who would not be an obvious choice compared to the applicant pool at large. When the UC system extended this policy to the top 9%, it guaranteed seats only at UC Merced, the least selective school in the system. dr. Bleemer says very few students have accepted the offers.
“California is a really striking counterexample,” he says.
University of California leaders have backed a 2020 initiative to reinstate affirmative action in admissions. A spokesperson for the school said the university has long been committed to enrolling a diverse student body.
In 1997, Texas began guaranteeing the top 10% of its high school graduates admission to its public universities. (The University of Texas at Austin is now in the top 6%.) Recent research shows that the effort has not increased racial diversity at the state’s leading universities. The researchers say an approach that would take a certain top percentage of high school students to encourage underrepresented minorities would be more effective in areas where the high schools themselves are less diverse.
Offer places proactively
According to research led by Susan Dynarski, now a professor of education at Harvard University, simply sending personalized mailings telling low-income students that they would be eligible for free tuition if accepted to a leading university increased the number applications and enrollment of these students.
Informing prospects before they apply that their qualifications will lead them to certain schools could also make a difference. The Common Application, a single online college application form used by nearly 1,000 colleges and universities, piloted the program with three historically black colleges in the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. Applicants who met certain criteria, such as GPA cutoffs, were notified that they would be guaranteed a place at certain schools.
Last year, the group expanded the experiment to six colleges, including George Mason University and Tennessee State High, and notified 18,000 applicants of the automatic match. About 800 sent completed applications to those schools, and Common App researchers say the announcement had a particularly strong effect on the behavior of black, Hispanic, low-income and first-generation students.
Write Melissa Korn at [email protected]
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