How a landmark Supreme Court case changed college admissions

Expanded definition of diversity

Enrollment officers can achieve racial and socioeconomic diversity in their incoming classes.

But given the maze of regulations governing college admissions, it can require a little ingenuity, according to a recent report by the American Council on Education (ACE).

The report includes a survey of 338 four-year colleges and universities about their admissions practices. Of them, about 75% say they strive for a racially and ethnically diverse incoming class. The more selective an institution is, the more likely it is to consider race in admissions outright.

But across all institutions, most schools prioritize recruiting students with high GPAs and test scores over racially, geographically, or socioeconomically diverse students.

Impact of Fisher

The report comes just weeks after the Supreme Court decided to re-hear the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which made it harder for colleges to consider race in admissions.

According to the report, only about 1% of institutions decreased their focus on race and admissions after Fisher. Rather, colleges shifted toward a more expansive definition of diversity, with around one in four increasing their focus on socioeconomic status and first-generation status.

"Institutions may have changed little in their admissions calculus," the authors conclude, "but they seem to have increased their use of other diversity strategies in their broader work."

In the wake of Fisher, colleges are also bolstering efforts to recruit community college transfer students and persuade admitted minority students to enroll.

Many schools that openly use race in admissions tend to use a mix of race-conscious and race-neutral strategies and take a broader approach to improving diversity. For example, many of these schools use targeted recruitment, marketing, and enrollment campaigns or summer "bridge" programs.

In fact, the most common strategies for improving diversity are also the most mundane, say the authors. The report criticizes the media for focusing too much on sensational—and rare—strategies like test-optional admissions (Kingkade, Huffington Post, 7/21; Hoover, Chronicle of Higher Education, 7/21; Schaffhauser, Campus Technology, 7/21).

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