Designing Anti-Racist Admissions

In a recent report, the Education Trust makes the case for more higher education institutions to adopt race-conscious admissions policies.
Designing Anti-Racist Admissions

OVER THE LAST 20 years, affirmative action policies adopted by several U.S. universities in their admissions have been challenged, either by voters or in the U.S. Supreme Court, as promoting “reverse discrimination” against white and Asian students.

What happens when these challenges succeed? In states where affirmative action has been banned, universities often struggle to maintain diversity. For example, enrollment of black students at the University of California at Berkeley dropped from 8 percent in 1990, the year California instituted its affirmative action ban, to 2 percent in 2015. These statistics are cited in “Even with Affirmative Action, Blacks and Hispanics Are More Underrepresented at Top Colleges Than 35 Years Ago,” an article published August 24, 2017, in The New York Times.

Designing Anti-Racist Admissions chart largeSuch outcomes have inspired a new report from The Education Trust, which argues in favor of keeping race-conscious admission policies in place. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the nonprofit is dedicated to closing “opportunity gaps that disproportionately affect students of color and students from low-income families.”

Released in January, the report outlines three reasons that race-conscious policies are essential to eliminating racial disparity in higher ed in the U.S. First, these policies counteract practices that have historically excluded underrepresented minorities. Second, racial inequality persists largely because race-conscious policies have been banned. Finally, proxies for race—such as income and geography—often produce little or no increase in students’ racial diversity.

The report cites several reasons why alternative strategies don’t work. For one, 46.2 percent of black undergraduates gravitate to community and for-profit colleges, compared to just 35.4 percent of white undergraduates. In addition, the report points out, “White students from high [socioeconomic status] backgrounds are nearly 2.8 times more likely to attend selective colleges than Black students from similar socioeconomic backgrounds.”

Persistent gaps also exist in completion rates and upward mobility. White students are up to 17 percent more likely to graduate than black students from similar economic backgrounds. Moreover, only 27 percent of black children from low-income backgrounds rise to the top 40 percent of adult earners, compared to 46 percent of white children from similar backgrounds.

The report outlines ten strategies to counteract racial inequality. For example, its authors recommend that schools adopt affirmative action and holistic approaches in their admissions. They call for schools to focus more on grade point averages and less on merit-based criteria such as Advanced Placement courses, which are unavailable to students at many underresourced high schools. They also suggest that federal and state governments invest more in historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges, and other minority-serving institutions.

“A true antiracist agenda must focus on aspects of a postsecondary education outside of just access and completion,” the authors conclude. “[Do] the faculty and staff reflect our diverse nation? Is the campus environment safe, welcoming, and affirming for students of color? … These are the type of questions racial justice advocates should adopt as key organizational priorities.”

Read the report's complete findings in "Hard Truths: Why Only Race-Conscious Policies Can Fix Racism in Higher Education.”