New Survey Shows Slight Shift in Race-Conscious Admissions

A survey of four-year nonprofit colleges shows 90 percent of admissions officers are carefully watching legal challenges to affirmative action, but few are changing their policies.

The survey conducted by the American Council on Education follows a flurry of legal challenges to race-conscious admissions, and it examines specific practices of admissions officers at 338 colleges across the country.

Related: Is Harvard Showing Bias Against Asian-Americans?

In a 2013 case involving the University of Texas, the Supreme Court said race can be considered in admissions if it’s the only way to achieve diversity on campus. Since then, 10 percent of the colleges surveyed have moved to race-neutral criteria such as socioeconomic status. Some have emphasized the recruitment of community college transfers and low-income students.

“This is not the value of every kind of higher education around the world,” says Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education. She says providing access to low-income students is a value that sets American higher education apart.

“I think somehow we don’t acknowledge this as openly as we ought to because it is one of the most important foundations for our commitment to diversity,” says Corbett Broad.

The survey also finds almost 80 percent of colleges use targeted recruitment of minority applicants to maintain diversity, but 19 colleges have stopped considering race in admissions altogether, emphasizing a more broad-based criteria: “overcoming adversity” or “demonstrating grit.”

The Supreme Court is expected to rehear Fisher v. University of Texas later this fall.

[Cross-posted at On Campus: the WGBH News Higher Education Blog]

Kirk Carapezza

Kirk Carapezza is the lead reporter for On Campus. Kirk has reported for Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison, Wis., and Vermont Public Radio in Montpelier, Vt. He's been a writer and producer at WBUR in Boston; a teacher and coach at Nativity Preparatory School in New Bedford, Mass.; a Fenway Park tour guide; and a tourist abroad.

Kirk received his B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross and earned his M.S. from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. When he's not reporting or editing stories on campus, you can find him posting K's on the Wall at Fenway.