Lessons from Michigan in California if admitted – Harvard Gazette

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How might America’s colleges and universities be changed by a Supreme Court ruling that ends race-based admissions? Data from state university systems in California and Michigan paint a disturbing picture.

Both were forced out of consideration for the race after voters called for statewide bans. That led to a sharp decline in campus diversity, senior school officials said in briefs filed in court in support of Harvard and the University of North Carolina.

Likening the university to a “race-neutral admissions experiment,” Michigan officials said the school’s efforts to preserve diversity underscore how limited consideration of race is necessary for colleges and universities to achieve the educational benefits that come from a diverse student body.

Despite what officials described as an “extraordinary” recruitment effort, enrollment among black and Native American students in Michigan has dropped by 44 percent and 90 percent, respectively, since 2006, when race was banned. These declines occur despite admissions officers considering a candidate’s socioeconomic background and whether he or she would be the first in a family to attend college.

Michigan has been a prominent voice in case law regarding the constitutionality of race-conscious confessions, including Grutter v. Bollinger (2003). In this case, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that obtaining the educational benefits of a diverse student body is a “compelling state interest” that can justify using race as one of many factors in the holistic assessment of each applicant. That principle “remains just as true today,” Michigan officials say.

Like Michigan, the University of California has implemented a wide range of race-neutral approaches to continue to attract or even increase the diversity of students on its 10 campuses after voters passed Proposition 209 in 1996, which banned the consideration of race in college admissions.

While UC has had some success expanding economic and geographic diversity among its more than 290,000 students, it has struggled to enroll a student body that is “racially diverse enough to achieve the educational benefits of diversity,” university officials said in a brief.

First-year enrollment from underrepresented groups fell “startlingly” systemwide, falling by 50 percent or more at UC’s most selective campuses, where African-American, Native American and Latino students are already underrepresented and widely report struggling with feelings of race . isolation, UC officials wrote.

After the ban, the decline was particularly dramatic at UCLA and UC Berkeley. In 1995, African Americans made up 7.13 percent of freshmen at UCLA, but only 3.43 percent in 1998, when California’s ban went into effect. At Berkeley, 6.32 percent of students were African American in 1995, but only 3.37 percent in 1998. Latino students made up 15.57 percent of Berkeley’s freshman class in 1995 and only 7.28 percent in 1998, although African American and Latino students represented 7.5 percent and 31 percent of the state’s high school graduates in 1998, respectively.

Although California has become more diverse, these racial disparities persist. In 2019, 52.3 percent of California public high school graduates identified as Latino, while 24.4 percent identified as white, 13.6 percent as Asian, 5.5 percent as African American, and 0.5 percent as Native American. Yet only 25.4 percent of first-year undergraduates at UC’s nine campuses identified as Latino, 3.87 percent as African American and 0.42 percent as Native American, according to the UC brief.

California’s struggles since the late 1990s to achieve racial diversity show “that highly competitive universities may not be able to achieve the benefits of student body diversity through race-neutral measures alone,” officials said, and so “must retain” the ability to consider race in a limited manner as permitted by the Supreme Court.

“In a country where race matters, universities must maintain a campus environment that allows them to teach their students to see each other as more than stereotypes,” UC wrote. “Success in these efforts is critical to preparing the next generation to become effective citizens and leaders in an increasingly diverse country.”


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