WASHINGTON — With the use of race in college admissions banned in a number of states and facing an uncertain future in the U.S. Supreme Court, institutions of higher learning must become more strategic about how they achieve racial and economic diversity on campus.
That was the heart of the message that a panel of current and former institutional leaders delivered Tuesday at an American Council on Education conference titled “Race, Class, and College Access: Achieving Diversity in a Shifting Legal Landscape.”
The strategies espoused during the discussion took on forms that ranged from targeted outreach to high schools in low-income zip codes to working with the private sector to raise scholarship money for students from ethnic and racial minorities.
Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale University, detailed how his institution spends “millions of dollars every single year” on various efforts to achieve a more diverse student body.
Quinlan made his remarks following ACE’s release of a new report titled “Race, Class, and College Access: Achieving Diversity in a Shifting Legal Landscape.”
“One of the things I really found valuable about this report was the emphasis on the idea that there are all of these race-neutral and race-conscious strategies working in concert together,” Quinlan said. “Places like Yale and other institutions … have been putting a lot of resources toward a whole array of strategies that — depending on how you define it — could be on the spectrum from race neutral to race conscious.”
He said Yale probably spends more on race-neutral efforts than on efforts that focus on race because “the way we value diversity and define diversity is so much broader than that.”
He highlighted a series of seasonal efforts that Yale makes to increase diversity. They include:
• During spring break, sending 300 Yale students to over 600 high schools identified as places “not traditionally sending students to Yale” to promote the university as an option.
• During the summer, tailoring messages specifically to the top 20,000 low-income students in the university’s “prospective database” and sending them postcards about diversity on campus, fee waivers and financial aid. The university also welcomes thousands of community-based organizations to visit the campus during the summer.
• During the fall, doing a “multilayered” outreach strategy that involves a partnership with Harvard, Princeton and UVA that is “specifically focusing on diversity.” “We traveled together as institutions to two dozen cities to talk about our financial aid [and] to talk about diversity of institutions,” Quinlan said.
• Flying in over 300 admitted students to visit campus before they make a decision. “And we have a specific early recruitment process to identify high-performing, low-income students and underrepresented students underrepresented in higher education because of their race and we notify them [of being admitted] earlier than other students.”
He said the university also employs a number of race-neutral factors to consider in its admissions practices, such as admitting first-generation college students or those who receive free or reduced lunch or live in a ZIP code identified as low income.
“All of this is millions of dollars every single year that is spent on these things,” Quinlan said. “Institutions are investing time and resources in these problems right now and are trying to move the needle in areas that go much broader than what the Supreme Court is currently considering.”
Bernie Machen, former president at the University of Florida, said his institution didn’t have a problem achieving diversity because of the state’s 1999 ban on affirmative action, but because of financial need.
“We discovered at a very selective state university, that we had plenty of applicants that were accepted without affirmative action,” Machem said. “Remember, we haven’t had affirmative action for 15 years. When we started looking at the strategies in play, we found we weren’t getting there. So we went back over our data and realized there [were] a lot more people admitted than were coming. And when we queried them, it was about financial aid.
“States are not exactly jumping into the ballgame of need-based financial aid. So we set up our own scholarship program,” he said, adding that the Florida Opportunity Scholarships raised $12 million. “It’s had a marked effect on our diversity.”
He said the focus needs to be on making sure young people in high school who want to graduate know they will have money available to attend college.
“For us, the best way is through guidance counselors,” Machen said. “To know that there is a scholarship, that if they get in they have a probability that they can go for free, really does make a difference.”
The demand for the Opportunity Scholarship outstrips the current funding, he said.
“Last year, when I looked at the pool, we had [an] additional 900 students admitted to the University of Florida for whom I did not have money to pay for their Opportunity Scholarship,” Machen said. “So for me, right now, it’s all about financial aid.”
Richard L. McCormick, president emeritus at Rutgers University, spoke about the role that the Rutgers Future Scholars program has played in getting more underrepresented students from New Jersey’s biggest cities.
Previously, he said, even though race was still allowed as a plus factor in admissions, very few students of color came from the big cities of New Jersey, including those where Rutgers has campuses.
“It’s an expensive program,” McCormick said of Rutgers Future Scholars, which recruits 200 students from four New Jersey cities beginning in seventh grade and promises free tuition for those who gain admittance. “But it has been embraced warmly by the university community and political leadership of the state and business leadership of New Jersey.”
Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, spoke of how — during her tenure as president of the University of North Carolina — a volunteer force went out to every high school in the state to help seniors with basic things such as filling out college applications and the FAFSA.
“It’s made a huge difference in the rate of growth of that category of students: minority, low-income, rural parts of the state,” Broad said. “They grew at three times the rate of the traditional college students in North Carolina.
“So the strategies are different for different environments,” she said. “But there are strategies.”
Jamaal Abdul-Alim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow him on Twitter @dcwriter360.