After the chants of about two dozen BAMN protesters forced University President Mark Schlissel to relocate Thursday’s meeting of the University’s Board of Regents, several BAMN members called on the University to increase its minority enrollment by guaranteeing admission to every in-state student in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating class.
Despite the adoption of similar plans in Texas, California and Florida, it’s unclear whether such a policy would be feasible in Michigan.
In recent years, the University has struggled to increase the representation of minority students, particularly since the passage of Proposal 2 in 2006, which banned the consideration of race in admissions.
The number of underrepresented minority students in this year’s freshman class remained roughly stagnant, though the proportion of minority students reflected a slight decrease due to the larger than average class size.
Along with a list of several other grievances, BAMN has demanded that the University double its minority enrollment through an initiative similar to Texas’ “Top 10 Percent Rule.” In Texas, every public university automatically admits students who rank in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.
LSA senior Tara McManus, a BAMN member who attended the protest, said the University uses the statewide ban on affirmative action as a cover for its failure to improve its enrollment of minority students. She said adopting a plan similar to the policy in Texas would increase minority enrollment while staying within the lines of the state’s ban on affirmative action.
“I believe the 10 percent plan works because to say that these students, the top 10 percent of students at these schools, aren’t intelligent enough or aren’t equipped enough to come here is just a complete joke,” she said.
However, University President Mark Schlissel said the University would not be likely to implement admissions strategies like a percentage-based plan, arguing they are ineffective in an October interview with The Michigan Daily.
“I’m not sure that’s necessarily the answer, or at least there’s not strong evidence that that’s the answer in the context of our laws here in the state,” he said.
The 10 percent rule was originally conceived to increase diversity on campuses after the Fifth Circuit Court outlawed other affirmative action policies in Texas during the 1996 court case Hopwood v. Texas. Hopwood was eventually invalidated by the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld the use of affirmative action for a narrow interest like ensuring diversity.
In 2009, the state legislature modified the law to allow only the University of Texas at Austin to cap admissions from the 10 percent plan when the numbers made up more than 75 percent of reserved spots for in-state students. The other 25 percent of enrolled students are admitted through a race-conscious, holistic review process.
In the 2013 case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the Fifth Circuit Court, after having the case remanded back from the U.S. Supreme Court, decided that the university’s use of the “holistic,” race-conscious admissions process for the 25 percent of reserved spots was valid in addition to the effects of the 10 percent plan.
Gary Susswein, director of University Media Relations at the University of Texas at Austin, said the original version of the law limited the university’s ability to have any discretion over the admissions process because automatically admitted in-state students were filling almost the entire cohort of each entering freshman class. The modification went into effect in 2011.
California and Florida have also implemented top 9 percent and top 20 percent plans, respectively, after those states banned affirmative action.
Shortly before the Supreme Court ruled in Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, both in 2003, the University issued a release responding to percent-based plans enacted in Texas, California and Florida.
The statement argued that the plans failed to evaluate students holistically, encouraged racially segregated high schools, discouraged students from attending competitive schools and disadvantages universities with large out-of-state populations.
The release also notes that adopting the plan would require a statewide university system, like the University of Texas or University of California system, which does not exist in Michigan. In Michigan, admittance to one publicly funded university does not guarantee admittance to another.
According to University of Texas at Austin enrollment data, the policy has yielded mixed results.
In the last two decades, the school has practiced several different admissions policies. In 1996, the university’s admissions office practiced affirmative action. That year, Black and Hispanic freshman enrollment was 4 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
By 1998, the Hopwood decision barred the university from considering race in admissions. After the legislature enacted HB 588, Black and Hispanic enrollment hovered between 3 to 4 percent and 14 to 16 percent, respectively.
In 2004, with affirmative action upheld in the Grutter decision, Black freshman enrollment jumped slightly to 5 percent and Hispanic freshmen enrollment reached 16 percent.
Though minority enrollment numbers have increased slightly at the University of Texas at Austin, this jump has been partly due to the reinstatement of affirmative action, which is currently banned in Michigan.
In California and Florida, states with similar percentage-based plans, the results have also been mixed.
Susswein, the director of media relations at the University of Texas at Austin, said automatically admitting the top 10 percent of in-state applicants allows hardworking students to attend a top state college or university. He noted the policy has resulted in improved attendance from rural parts of the state, historically underserved by the school.
In addition to the policy, the school uses a holistic review process, provides financial assistance for first-generation college students and employs academic programs in underperforming high schools within the state.
Though Susswein declined to comment on the efficacy of the percent plan — citing ongoing litigation in Fisher v. Texas — the university’s legal brief in the case argues for the necessity of race-conscious admissions, noting that just relying on the 10 percent plan is not an effective method for achieving full racial diversity.
The brief, which argues for the need to maintain an affirmative action policy in the absence of race-neutral alternatives, states that the 10 percent plan failed to significantly increase underrepresented minority enrollment. The brief also states the policy made it more difficult for underrepresented minority students to gain admission under the normal holistic review admission process.
Law School Prof. Mark Rosenbaum, a visiting law professor at the University of California, Irvine and chief counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said percent plans in California had “no impact” on improving diversity at the state’s most elite “flagship,” like the Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses.
“In a state as segregated as Michigan and with Michigan at the bottom of the nation when it comes to resourcing K-12 public schools, particularly those in high poverty communities, a percent plan is unlikely to achieve much (of) anything in the way of diversity, and runs the risk of diverting focus from measures that might have some impact,” he wrote in an e-mail interview.
Instead, he said he would encourage the regents to use University resources to help improve public high schools in low-income neighborhoods, as well as strengthen college preparatory programs in these schools.
“What’s needed is not a 10 percent plan, but a 100 percent plan of commitment to students who must attend public schools that no state official would send his or her child to,” he wrote.
E. Royster Harper, vice president of student life, said that even if Michigan were to enact a percent-based policy, it would not help increase the numbers of minority students who choose to enroll at the Ann Arbor campus.
Harper noted that the factors that usually deter qualified admitted students from choosing Michigan include campus climate, class size and affordability. Efforts to increase enrollment numbers are to help convince admitted students to choose the University over other schools.
“Our state legislature could put in place a plan that says the top 10 percent will be admitted to any university in the state of Michigan, but that doesn’t mean that more students would show up at U of M,” she said. “There’s nothing we’re going to be able to put in place that fundamentally changes students’ choices about where they want go to school.”
She further noted how the University accepts more underrepresented minority students than those that choose to enroll.
The University admitted 16,047 students this fall, roughly 40.5 percent of whom decided to enroll.
Harper and Schlissel both noted steps to increase the number of minority admits who ultimately enroll.
The University recently hired Kedra Ishop, who previously worked at the University of Texas at Austin, as the University’s associate vice president for enrollment management. The position was created this summer.
The role of the enrollment manager is to increase coordination between the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, the Office of Financial Aid, the Registrar and the Office of New Student Programs in an effort to provide support and resources for newly admitted students.
Harper said the role of the enrollment manager is to “court” students who are admitted to the University and deciding whether to attend. She said Ishop thinks about the process of choosing schools from the beginning to the end and is guides students considering the University with information such as scholarship options.
Ishop could not be reached for an interview.
Harper said many other universities ask prospective students to show them what other schools are giving them and attempt to match it — another initiative Ishop is looking into implementing.
Harper said the University needs to better persuade underrepresented minority students to enroll at the University.
“From the moment we see someone that’s really good, we’re not done until they say that they’re coming and they arrive on campus,” Harper said. “We’re not taking anybody for granted anymore.”