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Damage Control

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Damage Control

Although minority enrollment is on the rise in Texas, Higher education officials say that achieving diversity will be a continuing struggle

By Chris Newton

CANYON, Texas — The admissions director at West Texas A&M University remembers her reaction to the Hopwood ruling that state colleges and universities could no longer consider race in recruiting and financial aid.
“We were in a panic,” Lisa Blankenship says. “This wasn’t just a minor consideration. This meant that there were going to be completely new rules to the game — and those rules gave us a definite handicap when compared to other states.”
Blankenship expected that Texas would be raided by out-of-state schools that still could offer the scholarships and other preferences to minority students that they no longer could. But things have changed at the small, West Texas school — and not the way she expected. Despite the Hopwood ban, minority enrollment has inched up.
In 1998, 136 Black students attended the school, up from 121 the year before. The number of Hispanics rose to 572 in 1998, up from 566 the previous year. And this year, the 2.7 percent Black enrollment surpasses the 2.3 percent that was recorded in 1996 — before the Hopwood ruling took effect.
The Hopwood decision is the case in which a federal appeals court found in 1996 that the University of Texas School of Law’s former admissions policy discriminated against Whites.
“What happened is, we knew that we were going to make more of a concerted effort to travel and talk with students and really get them to understand the great things we have to offer,” Blankenship says of her institution’s reaction to the Hopwood decision.
While West Texas did not spend a great deal more money to implement its stepped-up recruitment effort,  the admissions and recruitment staff did make more aggressive strides than in the past to target high schools with diverse populations and spend additional time with students of color at those campuses.
Beyond these changes and the application of the state’s new 10 percent rule, which makes students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class automatically eligible for enrollment to the state’s public colleges and universities, Blankenship says that the Hopwood decision has had little affect on her institution.

Modest Enrollment Increases Statewide
The situation at West Texas reflects a trend that is occurring at other schools in the state. In fact, the Texas Board of Higher Education reports slight enrollment increases statewide. Blacks comprised 12 percent of the student body at Texas colleges and universities in 1997, the first year the Hopwood decision affected recruitment, and 12.4 percent in 1998. Hispanics comprised 18.8 percent and 19 percent, respectively. White enrollment dropped from 62 percent to 59 percent.
At first blush, these stats appear to be respectable for a state where the 1997 high school graduating class was 54.4 percent White, 12.6 percent Black, 29.8 percent Hispanic, 3.0 percent Asian, and 0.2 percent Native American, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. However, experts say the impact of Hopwood cannot be best assessed at schools like West Texas, because it wasn’t among states most selective institutions in the first place. The selective institutions are where the affirmative action efforts were most critical to achieving student diversity.
These experts say boosts at Texas’ smaller schools are thought to be the result of stepped-up recruiting and a redistribution of minority students who could not afford or gain entrance to the most competitive schools – such as the University of Texas and Texas A&M University.
“I don’t want to say [Hopwood] didn’t affect us, but we weren’t giving special considerations to Hispanics or other populations in the first place,” says Monique Cossich, director of admissions at Angelo State University. Like West Texas, minority enrollment at Angelo State has exceeded pre-Hopwood levels with intensified recruiting. Black enrollment at the university was at 258 in 1996, 300 in 1997, and 309 in 1998. The number of Hispanics increased at a similar pace. 

Assessing ‘Progress’ in Context
Steven Smith, the attorney who represented Cheryl Hopwood, interprets the current trends as proof that that those who projected minority enrollment plunges in the state were wrong. He maintains that schools can achieve diversity without race-sensitive admissions policies.
However, Robert Kronley, senior council at the Southern Education Foundation says Texas is “still not where we ought to be.” He says there needs to be more systemic reform from grades K through 12, and colleges and universities need to further expand their recruitment efforts so that students of color have as good a chance as White students of getting admitted to the state’s institutions of higher education — especially the most selective schools.
“We have a long way to go in Texas,” he says. “We are hopeful all states are open to a wide variety of measures to achieve opportunity within a system that discriminated by race. We believe, as the Supreme Court noted in Bakke, that sometimes in order to achieve equity, we [must] use race-sensitive measures to achieve diversity.”
Though minority enrollment at Texas Tech’s law school has gone from 10 percent in 1997 to 17 percent in 1998, the actual number of students is still relatively small. Only one Black student attended the school in 1997. Five enrolled this year.
“We had dozens of volunteers and local attorneys help in recruiting minority students. We pulled out all the stops and worked tirelessly,” says Frank Newton, dean of Texas Tech’s law school.
Still, he points out that minority enrollment at Texas’ law schools doesn’t come close to matching the state’s minority population. According to January 1998 Census Bureau estimates, Texas is just a little more than half White; between 12 percent and 13 percent Black; close to 29 percent Hispanic; and about 21.5 percent Asian-American.
And, Texas’ most selective law schools experienced declines in minority enrollment after Hopwood from which they have not recovered. For example, at the University of Texas law school, Black enrollment went from 31 students in 1996 to just four students in 1997.
“There has never been a greater crisis to the fair representation of the people of this state than Hopwood,” Newton says. “How someone could argue that there could possibly be a fair legal system that didn’t adequately represent the people it served is impossible for me to understand.”
The Hopwood ruling has affected Texas’ historically Black universities as well — although to a much lesser degree, and with mixed results (see chart). At Texas Southern University, for example, both White and Black enrollment percentages have declined while Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and international enrollment have increased. At Prairie View A&M University, White, Asian, and international enrollment have declined while Black enrolment has increased. Hispanic and Native American enrollment at Prairie View remained unchanged.
Reggie Wilson, scholar emeritus of the American Council of Education and a visiting professor at the University of Texas, agrees that Hopwood effected the state’s schools a great deal.
“In 1997, [immediately] after the decision, there was a drop in Black enrollment by 30 percent and 20 percent Hispanic. And in 1998 there was a slight increase, but it did not compensate for the decrease the year before,” Wilson says. “The figures show a considerable decrease and slight increase.” 

—Kimberly Matthews contributed to this story.

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