Thursday, July 23, 2015

New Report on Race, Class, and College Access

American Council on Education's Center for Policy Research and Strategy (CPRS) has released findings a ew report, Race, Class, and College Access: Achieving Diversity in a Shifting Legal Landscape.

The report, co-authored by Pearson’s Center for College & Career Readiness and the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), examines contemporary admissions practices at four-year colleges and universities across a wide range of selectivity in the context of recent legal challenges to race-conscious admissions, including the pending U.S. Supreme Court case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. The report offers insight into evolving practices institutions employ as they seek to further access and diversity.

“Now more than ever, institutional leaders require the knowledge and tools needed to meet mission-critical diversity goals. This first-of-its-kind study reflects on-the-ground practices by admissions and enrollment management offices at 338 institutions enrolling 2.7 million students nationally,” said Lorelle Espinosa, assistant vice president of CPRS. “Our aim is to complement the great work being done by our partners and others to ensure institutions are in the best position to further diversity goals now and in the future.”

Following a presentation of findings by the authors, a series of panel discussions will be led by distinguished diversity scholars, legal experts, admissions and student affairs practitioners and institutional leaders. Click here for a full agenda.

“Diversity matters to higher education institutions. It matters across sectors, selectivity ranges, and university contexts. Our data are clear on that point,” said Matthew Gaertner, senior research scientist at Pearson’s Center for College & Career Readiness. “But we also see that the diversity strategies institutions are pursuing most frequently are not always the initiatives receiving attention from researchers and the press. We need better alignment across those constituencies—practitioners, scholars and the media—if we hope to move best practices forward and help institutions advance access and diversity.”

The report is structured around three key findings:

  • The most widely used diversity strategies receive the least attention. Strategies such as reduced emphasis on legacy admissions, test-optional admissions and percentage plans are the least widely used yet receive the most media and research attention. More common strategies include targeted outreach and recruitment to minority, low-income, and community college students, yet these do not receive equal press or research attention.
  • Striving for racial/ethnic diversity is not an “either-or” but a “both-and” proposition. Institutions that consider race in admissions decisions use other race-conscious and race-neutral diversity strategies more often and find them more effective than institutions that use race-neutral strategies alone. Race-conscious and race-neutral approaches can and do coexist. Some of the most widely used and effective diversity strategies at institutions that consider race include targeted recruitment and yield initiatives for minority and low-income students, summer enrichment programs and targeted financial aid awards.
  • Reactions to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Fisher decision are still evolving, and more research is needed. Post-Fisher changes in how admissions offices approach enrollment data, admissions factors and diversity strategies have been modest among institutions that currently consider race in admissions decisions. Some have placed increased importance on the recruitment of community college transfers and students from low-income backgrounds. Institutions across the selectivity spectrum require research and guidance in the post-Fisher context. Moreover, the Supreme Court’s June 2015 decision to rehear the Fisher case signifies that these issues are far from settled.

“One of the challenges for American higher education in the wake of the Fisher decision has been the lack of effective exchange of research, data and plans,” said Gary Orfield, distinguished professor and co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. “Advancing equal educational opportunity requires sharing lessons learned in pursuit of promising diversity strategies. The story of affirmative action law and policy is still unfolding and researchers must respond to the needs of institutions. Our data show how the more selective institutions, of which 60 percent consider race in admissions, need additional research and guidance on critical mass.”

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