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Color and Money Is a College Course!
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Preliminary admissions numbers for the coming fall recently released by U of M show that such predictions have not come true. In the first full admissions cycle after it was precluded from considering applicants' race, the share of its incoming freshman class that is black, Hispanic, or Native American fell from 10.85 percent to 10.47 percent--a decline, yes, but small enough to go largely unnoticed.
A statement issued by the university described several steps it had taken to try to maintain racial and ethnic diversity. Its undergraduate-admissions office hired additional employees, expanded its hours of operation, and used Descriptor PLUS, a geodemographic search tool developed by the College Board, to identify high schools and neighborhoods that are underrepresented on its campus. The university also stepped up its outreach in communities such as Detroit. (See full Chronicle of Higher Education blog coverage, with a link to the university's statement, here.)
Given that the University of Michigan's enrollment has never been as racially diverse as the state it serves, it's worth asking why Michigan did not take such steps earlier. As the book Color and Money discusses in depth, it often has taken the shock to the system delivered by ban on affirmative-action preferences to get colleges to get serious about finding workable alternatives. When they do get serious, the workable alternatives suddenly appear.
The report offers valuable demographic information about various segments of the Asian American population, but it is also missing a few things. It says little about how colleges tend to lump all Asian American populations together--by giving them just one "Asian American" box to check on applications--and then, often, hold them to admissions standards that are every bit as high as, if not higher than, those applied to white students. In its discussion of affirmative action, the report made no reference to a recent study (discussed here) that found Asian American enrollments rose at several elite public universities after they were barred from considering applicants' race.
Chronicle of Higher Education coverage of the report is available to subscribers here.
One of the nation's leading proponents of diversity in higher education, Evelyn Hu-DeHart, director of Brown University's Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, delivered a speech taking conference attendees to task for not doing more to advocate for black, Hispanic, and Native American students and faculty members. She went so far as to suggest that colleges let people attend this attend this annual conference—typically held in family-friendly tourist destinations—to reward them for not making waves.
Calling herself "a hard-nosed critic from the inside," Ms. Hu-DeHart said, "Let's face it: Diversity has created jobs for all of us. It is a career. It is an industry."
"We do what we need to keep our jobs," she said. "But as long as we keep doing our job the way we are told to do it, we are covering up for our universities."
"You all are covering up," she said. "You all are complicit in this."
She alleged that people who work in college offices dealing with diversity and minority issues help their institutions create the impression that they are far more concerned with diversity and equity than is actually the case. Her advice to the college chief diversity officers in the crowd? Quit and renegotate your contract to give you more power.
Chronicle of Higher Education subscribers can find full coverage of her speech here and an analytical story following up on the conference here.