Creativity Replaces Racial Quotas at Colleges Minority Enrollment Leapt to 31 Percent This Year at One California University
Daniel B. Wood, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
When college students return next week to the University of California campus here in suburban Riverside, they will find something in greater abundance than on most campuses in America: minority faces.
The number of underrepresented minorities has fallen in the nine- campus UC system for the past two years, the result of a 1995 vote in California to phase out affirmative action. But UC Riverside has seen a dramatic increase in every racial category.
"We have found that by making diversity a major priority in the way we approach recruitment and admissions, we can reflect the growing ethnic variety of California without affirmative-action policies," says Riverside Chancellor Raymond Orbach.
Attracting a fall class that reflects racial diversity is the stated goal of every public university in the land. But in recent years, lawsuits and political upheaval over affirmative action have produced a new climate of concern in several states. Worried about censure, litigation, and public condemnation, colleges are trying new ways to expand minority enrollments, without depending on admission quotas and race-designated scholarships.
"Universities are keeping diversity of enrollment as a top priority without relying directly on race, per se," says Roselyn Hebert, spokeswoman for the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges.
Instead, they are finding ways to expand the minority pool by establishing outreach and preparatory programs that begin in elementary school. They are reaching into poorer ethnic neighborhoods and rural regions, and educating potential minority bases about financial aid and campus jobs. They are tapping into community- college systems for qualified transfer students. And they are taking creative license with admissions criteria - for instance, adding weight to extracurricular activities in which minorities participate - instead of relying solely on grade point averages and SAT scores.
"There is no one magic bullet here," says Mr. Orbach. "It's time- consuming, expensive, and requires long-term planning and commitment." The UCR minority enrollment - now 31 percent, an increase of 5 percent from last year - is being used as a prime example of what universities can achieve without quota structures.
Affirmative-action practices grew widespread after a 1978 US Supreme Court ruling, which held that colleges could use race as a factor to admit students to remedy past discrimination.
But a series of lawsuits in recent years have started to chip away at the standard, while public opinion has grown more wary of affirmative action. A federal Circuit court in Texas found that a white woman was unfairly passed over for admission to the University of Texas Law School in favor of two minority students who were less qualified. …