Programs aimed at recruiting minorities live on, even after the reason they were created is eliminated by a Supreme Court ruling

May 15, 2009

Schools say diversity recruiting will continue
By Patrick McGee
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Monday, July 7, 2003

Minority-targeted scholarships and recruitment have been developed during a ban on considering race in college admissions.

The recent Supreme Court decision upholding affirmative action in higher education might be even better news for Texas minorities than previously thought.

Texas higher-education officials said they’re eager to consider race in admissions again now that a ban ordered by a lower court has effectively been struck down by the Supreme Court.

But that’s not the only piece of good news for American Indian, black and Hispanic Texans seeking college degrees. Officials at public and private Texas universities said they plan to continue minority-targeted scholarships and recruitment programs they developed during the seven-year ban.

Advocates for efforts to help minorities in higher education said they’re encouraged by the news.

“It’s important that we continue those programs because they were successful,” said state Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, a member of the House Higher Education Committee. “We must not retreat on such important measures and must continue to look for ways to make our state universities more inclusive.”

Texas universities have been prohibited from considering race in admissions since the 1996 Hopwood v. Texas decision, a suit filed by law school applicant Cheryl Hopwood against the University of Texas, in which the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that race could not be an admissions factor. Southern Methodist University in Dallas and Rice University in Houston interpreted that ban as applying to them, even though they are private institutions.

The ban ended with the June 23 Supreme Court ruling in a Michigan case. The ruling says an applicant’s race may be considered as one of many factors by admissions officials.

Higher-education officials in Texas have argued that they want to consider minorities’ race favorably to build diverse student bodies that they say are needed to enhance the educational experience. In the past seven years, they have created other ways, mostly scholarships and outreach programs, to bring minorities to their campuses.

Rice and SMU were able to bring their minority enrollments back up close to pre-Hopwood levels.

Officials at state schools with less competitive admissions policies, such as the University of North Texas in Denton and the University of Texas at Arlington, have said the Hopwood decision did not affect their ability to maintain diversity. But minority enrollment at the state’s flagships, Texas A&M University in College Station and the University of Texas at Austin, did not return to pre-Hopwood levels, figures show.

After the Hopwood ruling, Rice developed special scholarships aimed at — but not exclusively for — minorities, including one with the local chapter of the Urban League, a predominantly black organization. SMU created scholarships for graduates of certain Dallas inner-city high schools. A&M developed scholarships that pay full tuition and board, and it established six outreach centers to promote the scholarships along with other aspects of the university.

“We’re not going to stop it,” said Joseph Estrada, A&M’s assistant provost for enrollment. “We’re going to continue. In fact, we’re going to continue to open additional centers.”

UT-Austin also created new scholarships after Hopwood and opened outreach offices in Dallas and Houston.

“We knew, based on Hopwood, that we needed to take more action in the state of Texas by organizing our outreach to high schools, and placing professional staff in these cities allowed us to do that,” said Augustine Garza, UT-Austin’s deputy director of admissions.

SMU President Gerald Turner said that after the Hopwood decision, his university broadened the factors it considered in admission, giving special attention to applicants from Dallas and Houston and heavily Hispanic counties in South Texas.

“We’re looking now at reviewing the conditions when we would include race or ethnicity in that consideration,” Turner said.

Julie Browning, Rice’s dean of undergraduate enrollment, said that her university is still studying the Supreme Court’s decision and that officials do not know what policy they will pursue to recruit diverse student bodies.

Jan West, grants administrator for the Houston Area Urban League, was director of education when Rice officials approached the group with the idea of creating scholarships. She said she hopes universities will continue such scholarships because they reach talented students who might otherwise feel college is unattainable.

“It gives an indication that students are desired at the university,” she said. “The students are talented. They are going to be more than able to handle the work at selective universities.”

The outreach programs, scholarships and consideration of race may seem unfair to opponents of affirmative action. But many educators say the state must do more to educate its rapidly growing minority population to help prevent poverty.

Blacks and Hispanics are expected to outnumber Anglos in Texas by 2015, but both groups lag behind Anglos in college education.

In Texas, 23.7 percent of Anglos have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 16.3 percent of blacks and 10.2 percent of Hispanics, according to the 2000 Census.

The degrees are important to individuals’ earning potentials and the state’s economic development. Over 40 years, a person with a bachelor’s degree makes about $1.9 million more than someone with only a high school diploma, according to the Washington-based Employment Policy Foundation.

“If we don’t improve participation across the board, we will have a less-educated populous,” said David Gardner, assistant commissioner for planning information resources at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. “Every tool we get to help expand participation in higher education is a plus to the state of Texas.”

Some people remain critical of affirmative action and similar efforts.

“I think it’s terrible for the so-called beneficiaries,” said Lino Graglia, a UT-Austin law professor. He said universities should not strive to enroll minority applicants who are not qualified. Those students will become frustrated when they’re in over their heads and will eventually drop out, he said.

Joe Feagin, a University of Florida sociologist who has studied race on campus, said universities need to do much more than finding shortcuts to getting minorities admitted. They need to work closely with high schools to help minorities meet entrance requirements, he said.

“Setting up a recruitment program that relies on institutional racism is a lousy idea,” Feagin said. “If our high schools are desegregated, that would destroy the program.”