Proponents of Proposal 2 claimed to envision a color-blind world. This world would be truly equal, they said, and public universities would be fairer than ever before, because considering race in the admissions process would be completely unnecessary. They said that removing race as a factor in admissions would not hinder diversity on campus. This week, however, this rosy worldview was predictably proved wrong.
As expected, the acceptance rate of underrepresented minority applicants to the University has taken a sharp plunge since the University was forced to stop using affirmative action programs last month. Before Proposal 2 went into effect, 76 percent of underrepresented minority applicants were admitted; that figure dropped a staggering 43 percentage points after affirmative action was taken away.
Even though this admissions cycle could be an anomaly, given its close proximity to the amendment’s passage and implementation on the new state law in the middle of the cycle, these numbers are a manifestation of Proposal 2 opponents’ worst fears. And judging from what happened when California implemented a similar affirmative action ban several years ago, the situation does not look too promising for diversity at the University.
The University must do everything in its power to fight against Proposal 2’s detrimental effects. University President Mary Sue Coleman has said, and the Supreme Court ruled in 2004, that diversity is an imperative aspect of today’s college experience. The ideal of a University environment that fosters the “robust exchange of ideas” is still within reach, despite Proposal 2’s passage.
These new numbers demonstrate that in the absence of affirmative action, this University will undoubtedly struggle to maintain racial diversity on campus. While it should continue the fight in court to challenge the legality of the ban, for the time being, it must act quickly to keep minority enrollment from dropping again next year.
Fortunately, completed applications from underrepresented minority candidates are up by 14 percentage points this year, and the number of total applications increased by 5 percentage points. However, the fact that underrepresented minority admissions rates have fallen so quickly in the few short weeks since Proposal 2’s passage indicates that this year’s efforts were not sufficient. The University has no choice but to intensify its recruitment efforts and outreach programs to further boost the number of qualified minority applicants.
Strengthening outreach programs also means beginning the recruitment process earlier in students’ high school careers. Prospective students in wealthier districts often have the advantage of excellent college counseling at school and at home right from the start of high school. Affluent students are put on a supportive academic track early on and as a result are adequately prepared for the application process. This is unfortunately not the case in the struggling, under-funded, majority-minority schools in urban areas like Detroit.
The University can compensate for this unfortunate reality by targeting its outreach programs toward high school freshmen and sophomores in areas with high underrepresented minority populations. By doing so, it can reach minority students who might otherwise fall through the cracks. These outreach programs can emphasize important college preparation techniques like AP classes, skills for the ACT and SAT, participation in extra-curricular activities and writing strong college essays – all essential for admission into the University.
Hopefully University Provost Theresa Sullivan’s Diversity Blueprints Task Force will have strong recommendations for these outreach programs and additional funding set aside to make them effective. Immediate action is crucial to reverse this drop in minority enrollment and to keep admission rates stable in the wake of Proposal 2.
While the legal implications of Proposal 2 remain questionable, what the University needs to do now is clear.