Over the past 50 years, affirmative action has helped transform college student populations from monotone to vibrant and diverse.
The positive impact of affirmative action on the diversity of college campuses is hard to deny. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that affirmative action programs have doubled, and in some cases tripled, the number of minority applicants to colleges and universities. When California banned affirmative action in 1998, minority admittance at UC Berkeley dropped 61 percent, and, at UCLA, it fell 36 percent.
Recently, Michigan banned affirmative action for admittance to public universities, and the U.S. Supreme Court may rule on it on a federal level soon. The process that was created during the height of the Civil Rights movement in America may soon be officially considered outdated, and even unfair, by the higher judicial powers.
So if affirmative action appears to be on its way out, what can colleges do to ensure their campuses still have enough variety in race, ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic backgrounds? A few initiatives that could help bridge the loss of affirmative action gap include:
Targeted high school recruiting
The demographics of high schools are readily available, along with the socioeconomic status of them. Colleges that are serious about recruiting a diverse population should target schools with students in the particular demographic they would like to see more of on their campuses. This will not automatically translate into more of those students, but it will mean more consideration from these high schoolers of the colleges that seem to want to help them succeed the most.
First-generation college student support
Adjusting to college life is difficult for all young people—but especially so for first-generation students. Not only should these students be recruited, but they should be assigned to programs designed to help them succeed. Colleges could consider a scholarship for first-generation students that is contingent upon these young people meeting with advisers and mentors a certain number of times each semester. This point would help not just minority college students, but White students who may not be prepared for the demands of college either.
Non-traditional student programs
Many young people who cannot afford college tuition directly after high school end up in the workforce, often in a job that is not their passion or one that does not highlight their talents. By the time these students consider going to college, life has usually taken over in the form of rent, medical and other family expenses. Though colleges are starting to warm up to these adult, “non-traditional” students, there is still much more room for improvement. Launching full-fledged college recruiting programs for non-traditional students will bring in more talent to the college and will bring in more diversity in the students who take courses and graduate from there.
By giving preference or priority spots to legacy students, colleges can ensure spots for minority students without the use of affirmative action. Of course no student should be allowed entry to a particular college or university without putting in the actual time and work required of other students. But if all things are considered equal when it comes to academic records, using legacy priority could give minority students the leg up to land that college entry spot.
Targeted marketing campaigns
If a college knows that it needs to improve the number of Latino students on campus, then a marketing campaign that appeals to those students needs to be developed. This includes visuals that show students like the ones being recruited, along with other cultural and language specifications. Traditional brochures and mailers should be secondary to social media campaigns that target students where they are already consuming content.
Since its inception, affirmative action as it relates to college admittance and graduation numbers for minorities and women has had a strong showing. If that tool is taken away from the college entry process, schools should modify the same concepts to other programs taking place in order to continue recruiting the most diverse college population possible. Without some forethought when it comes to what sorts of students need to be represented, colleges risk a student body that is not actually representative of the greater community. If that happens, all of the triumphs of affirmative action will be lost.
What ways do you think colleges and universities can continue to cultivate diverse student bodies, even if affirmative action is banned?