Race-Conscious Admission Alternatives

Since the 1960’s lawmakers, educators, and university administrators have debated race-based admission policies. During the past 50 years, many legislators and university administrators have worked to achieve equitable levels of minority student enrollment within American colleges and universities. Based on the goals, values, policy alternatives, the costs of each alternative, and the probability of meeting goals for each alternative, universities and university systems established race-based admission policies and practices (Hicklin, 2007, p. 332). There is an ongoing debate between those who support and those who oppose race-conscious admission processes intended to increase minority student enrollment. Race-based admission policies and programs are intended to give students of diverse backgrounds the opportunity to learn through the various perspectives of their classmates and enrich the learning environment, as well as to help to produce well-educated, well-trained students ready to take on leadership positions within the global business sector, government, and society (Bowen & Rudenstine, 2003).

According to Hicklin (2007) supporters of race-conscious admission processes argue that they give minority students an increased probability of gaining admission into an institution, and that without the consideration of race in admissions, colleges and universities will see a decrease in minority admissions (p. 331). Many supporters of the use of race-conscious admission processes argue that by eliminating race-conscious admission processes minority students will forgo attending college, or attend out-of-state institutions that conduct race-conscious admission processes. However, studies show that judicial and legislative restrictions on race-conscious admission processes do notreduce the number of minority students in a state. Instead, judicial and legislative restrictions redistribute minority students among less selective institutions where the quality of education is much lower (Hicklin, 2007, p.337).

In Gratz v. Bollinger et al (2000) the University of Michigan stressed the educational value of diversity. Diversity brings about a larger capacity for the expansion of knowledge through the diversity of perspectives, beliefs, and backgrounds. Despite the educational value of diversity, race-conscious admission processes still hardwire inequities into our system (Frye, 2004). For instance, some view these processes as reverse racism, because these processes put other students (i.e., Caucasian) at a disadvantage based on their race. For many years the pioneers of the civil rights movement fought for equality, and now many support a discriminatory system that is said to increase diversity of our colleges and universities.

I do not support the use of race-conscious admission processes. There are many alternatives to using such processes. Instead of using race as a factor in making admission decisions, institutional leaders, lawmakers, and educators can make a shared effort to target the needs of perspective minority students. The admission of minority students into an institution will not increase diversity at that institution because admission does not equal enrollment.

When deciding to choose a university, many students conduct a basic cost-benefit analysis that helps them to decide where they choose to enroll (Hicklin, 2007, p.333). Thus, diversity initiatives should focus on minority student enrollment, rather than admission. Students look at their perceived probability of gaining admission, the perceived benefits of the university, and the perceived costs that will be incurred to attend the university (Hicklin, 2007, p.333). Many agree that the minority student enrollment rate needs to be increased; how to do that is where the issue lies. Race-conscious admission policies target minority students’ perceived probability of gaining admission, rather than focusing on factors that lead to an actual enrollment. To increase minority student enrollment I urge colleges and universities to focus on minority students’ perception of benefits (e.g., academic programs, job opportunities, alumni networks, social/professional organizations) and perceived cost of attendance. By focusing on these factors, institutions can create narrowly tailored programs that will produce the desired outcome: increased minority enrollment.

Rather than relying on race-conscious admission policies, Lehmuller and Gregory (2005) describe other practices institutions can use to cultivate and attract well-prepared minority applicants:

  1. Establish support programs in high schools that better prepare minority and economically disadvantaged students for admission;
  2. Recruit from community colleges that have large minority populations;
  3. Place less emphasis on standardized tests, and more emphasis on personal interviews; and
  4. Increase consideration of economic factors in awarding financial aid (p.445)

While the goals of many institutions is to increase minority student enrollment, it is also important for them to recognize the value of student support, which is vital to the retention of students. Lehmuller and Gregory (2005) encourage student affairs administrators to provide support for all students with limited academic abilities or those who do not have strong support systems (e.g., family, clubs, sports teams, etc.) (p.445); this can be achieved by:

  1. Providing learning assistance programs for minority and first-generation college students;
  2. Providing proactive and appropriate advising from admission to graduation;
  3. Providing learning communities that stress academic support and cohort development across all races;
  4. Forming coalitions with other local institutions so students can have external support;
  5. Providing outreach and support to those taking developmental courses; and
  6. Working closely with community colleges to develop academic support for likely transfer students (Lehmuller & Gregory, 2005, p. 455-456).

These practices provide alternatives to using race when making admission decisions that will ultimately increase student enrollment and retention.

According to Bowen and Rudenstine (2003) the goal of higher education is to give students of diverse backgrounds the opportunity to learn through the various perspectives of their classmates, enrich the learning environment, and produce well-educated, well-trained students ready to take on leadership positions within business, government, and society. Institutions can achieve this goal if they implement programs that target student enrollment and retention instead of utilizing race-conscious admission processes. These types of programs do not put other non-minority students at a disadvantage, better meet the needs of minority students, and are more likely to graduate minority students who are well-prepared for leadership roles in society.


Bowen, W.G., & Rudenstine, N. C. (2003). Race-sensitive admissions: Back to basics. Chronicle of Higher Education. 49(22), p. B7.

Frye, J. (2004). Preparing MPA students for the public interest workplace. Journal of Public Affairs Education. 10(2), 165-167. Retrieved from: www.naspaa.org/initiatives/jpae/jpae.asp

Gratz v. Bollinger et al. 122 F. Supp. 2d 811 (E.D. Mich. 2000), No 97-75928, 2001 W.L. 315715 (E.D. Mich. April 3, 2001).

Hicklin, A. (2007). The effect of race-based admissions in public universities: Debunking the myths about Hopwood and Proposition 209. Public Administration Review. 67, 331-340. Retrieved from: www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118484994/home

Lehmuller, P., & Gregory, D.E. (2005). Affirmative action: From before Bakke to after Grutter. NASPA Journal. 42(4), 430-459. Retrieved from: www.naspa.org/pub

Please send inquiries and feedback to Jammie Jelks at [email protected].

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