Diversity in Higher Education

Since the 1960s and 1970s, colleges and universities began to actively seek to open their doors to a wider variety of students, making a postsecondary education possible for minority students.

The Supreme Court's 1978 Bakke decision changed many institutions' admissions policies and procedures, but colleges and universities remained focused on expanding diversity.

Race as a "Plus Factor"

The June 2003 Supreme Court rulings that supported affirmative action reinforced the vital role of diversity in higher education. In two related cases involving undergraduate and law school admissions at the University of Michigan, the Court reaffirmed that there is a "compelling state interest" in having a diverse student body. It said colleges and universities can use race as a "plus factor," while avoiding any formula that awards a point bonus for race, and confirmed that institutions have considerable leeway in what admissions policies they use.

What's Not Spelled Out

But the Court decision left many questions unanswered, and now colleges and universities are reexamining their practices and considering the legal implications of the decisions. While it focused on admissions policies, the Court was silent on issues related to such issues as scholarships, financial aid, housing, student organizations and college employment.

Clear Imperatives

Nevertheless, colleges and universities should now focus on what they can do to expand their dedication to diversity. According to the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), for example, African-Americans and Hispanics remain underrepresented on campuses, making up only 13 and 10 percent of post-secondary students, while they are 15 and 16 percent of the school-age population.

Higher Education must now take the well expressed commitment surrounding the Supreme Court decision and translate it into immediate action. This section of our website is intended to provide some useful information and suggestions for doing so.

For more than three decades, NRCCUA has been building bridges between high school students and colleges and universities. An important part of our work is giving post-secondary institutions the tools they need to build a diverse student body by identifying potential students based on individual characteristics, interests and needs.

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