As SCOTUS considers affirmative action, universities see few ways to reach diversity goals

WASHINGTON (AP) – As an alternative to affirmative action, universities from California to Florida are experimenting with different strategies to achieve the diversity they claim is essential to their campuses. Many give priority to low-income households. Some have even started accepting bright students from all communities across the state.

But years of experimentation have found no clear solution, often in the wake of state-level bans on race considerations in admissions. In states that require race-neutral policies, many colleges have seen declines in enrollment of black and Hispanic students, especially at elective colleges that have historically been predominantly white.

Now, as the Supreme Court decides the fate of affirmative action, colleges across the country could soon face a similar challenge, wiping out decades of progress on campus diversity. Some are preparing for setbacks. A verdict is expected by the end of June.

Amherst University officials estimate that complete race neutrality would halve the population of blacks, Hispanics and indigenous peoples.

Matthew McGann, director of admissions for the city of Amherst, said: “We fully expect a significant population decline.”

confront the conservatives The Supreme Court expressed skepticism The university has been preparing for the downsizing from the beginning. Some are considering adding an essay to get a better sense of the applicant’s background. Some plan to increase recruitment in racially diverse areas or to accept more transfer students from racially diverse areas. community college.

court took affirmative action in response to challenges in Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.lower court Admission system supported Both schools denied allegations that the school discriminated against white and Asian-American applicants.

Other schools, on the other hand, have adopted college precepts that do not consider race.9 previously banned states affirmative actionstarting in California in 1996 and most recently in Idaho in 2020.

After Michigan voters defeated the bill in 2006, the University of Michigan turned its attention to low-income students.

Graduates were sent to low-income high schools as counselors. Launched college placement offers in Detroit and Grand Rapids. Offered full scholarships to low-income earners in Michigan. Recently, the number of applications for early admission is decreasing, and the number of applications from white students is increasing.

Despite these efforts, universities are sounding their own alarm bells. Black and Hispanic undergraduate percentages have not fully recovered from the post-2006 dip. And while Hispanic enrollment has increased, black enrollment continues to decline, from her 8% of undergraduates in 2006 to his 4% today.

Erica Saunders, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Michigan, said the campus has more low-income students, but that’s not reflected in racial diversity.

“Socioeconomic status is not a substitute for race,” Sanders said.

At the same time, some of Michigan’s less-selected colleges are doing better. Nearby Eastern Michigan University has seen an increase in the number of students of color, reflecting demographic changes in the state. This shows a chilling effect that experts say is most pronounced in selective colleges. Students of color see less of their peers in places like Ann Arbor and choose campuses that are more welcoming, he said.

Growing up in Ann Arbor, Odia Kaba was expected to attend the University of Michigan. Her application was delayed, so she started at Eastern Michigan University and made plans to transfer to Ann Arbor in her sophomore year.

By then, Kaba was getting daily emails from her sister, who attended UM, describing microaggressions she faced on campus as a black student. Her room fell silent when she entered. Her group projects ignored her. She felt lonely and suffocating.

“Why should I go to M University?” Kaba, 22, remembers thinking. “You end up hanging out with people who don’t look like you, who you can’t relate to, and who you can’t get away from.”

Kaba remained at Eastern Michigan University, graduating this year with a degree in quantitative economics. Although it’s a mostly white campus, Kaba said she found a place with diversity that made her feel comfortable.

“I’m in economics, which is a predominantly white, male field, but when I get out of the classroom and surrounded by people, I feel at ease,” she said.

of University of California A similar admissions slide was seen after the statewide ban on admissions in 1996. Within two years, black and Hispanic enrollments had halved at the system’s two most-selected campuses, Berkeley and UCLA. The system would keep him spending more than $500 million on programs aimed at low-income college students and first-generation college students.

The system also launched a program that promises to enroll the top 9% of students in each of the state’s high schools, attempting to reach the brightest students of all backgrounds. Similar promises have been credited with increasing racial diversity in Texas, which opponents of affirmative action cite as a model for success.

In California, the promise drew students from a wider geographic area but did little to expand racial diversity, the system said in its brief to the Supreme Court. Berkeley and UCLA, where students compete with tens of thousands of other applicants, had little impact.

Hispanics now make up 20% of undergraduates at UCLA and Berkeley, higher than in 1996 but lower than the 53% Hispanic share of California high school graduates. On the other hand, black students are less represented than they were in 1996, accounting for 2% of Berkeley’s undergraduates.

Opponents of affirmative action argue that some states were doing just fine without it. After Oklahoma banned the practice in 2012, the state’s top universities “did not see any significant long-term declines” in minority enrollment, the state’s attorney general told the Supreme Court.

It notes that the recent freshman class at the University of Oklahoma had more Hispanic, Asian and Native American students than in 2012. Although the proportion of black students declined, it was not far from other state’s flagship universities that allow affirmative action. said the state.

Still, many universities expect racial diversity to take a hit. He fears that with affirmative action revoked, universities will be less likely to unknowingly enroll students of color. In the long run, it can last. If numbers decline, campuses may become less attractive to future students of color.

Universities say this is a problem because racial diversity benefits campuses as a whole, exposing students to a different worldview and preparing them for a diverse workforce.

“We need to make sure we get the message across that we’re committed to diversity regardless of court decisions,” said Doug Christiansen, dean of admissions at Vanderbilt University.

At colleges like Vanderbilt, black students make up 9% of all students, higher than even the most selective colleges. But the school isn’t planning a major change in strategy. Instead, the company plans to step up its efforts to recruit talent in diverse fields and expand its scope of activity.

Christiansen said the university has, in some ways, been gearing up to do away with affirmative action since the previous legal challenge. “These are things we’ve had to think about for quite some time,” he said.

Beyond race, the decision has reshaping implications for other admissions policies. Universities may need to scrap policies that favor white students, such as traditional incentives and early entry to standardized test scores, to attract more underserved populations, experts say. It has said.

In Amherst, authorities will end the legacy incentive scheme in 2021 and expand financial aid. The university is looking for ways to maintain diversity, but officials say options are limited.

“I don’t know if there will be any great innovation,” McGann says. “If schools understood that, they would already be doing it.”


The Associated Press education team is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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