The number of underrepresented minorities in the University’s 2008 freshman class dropped slightly from the previous year, according to final enrollment statistics released earlier this week. The numbers indicate that the University avoided drops in minority enrollment seen at other universities after their states implemented bans on the use of affirmative action in admissions.

The proportion of underrepresented minorities in the incoming class was 10.4 percent, down from 10.8 percent in the 2007 class. But since 2006, the last year before the ban took effect, the number of underrepresented minorities — those who classify themselves as black, Hispanic or Native Americans — at the University has dropped by 8 percent.

The 2008 group is the first whole class to be admitted since the passage of Proposal 2, a ballot initiative that banned the use of race- and gender-based preferences in admissions in 2006. The ban was implemented in 2007 in the middle of the University’s admission cycle, lessening the ban’s possible impact that year.

The percentage of black students enrolled in this year’s freshman class increased to 6.4 percent, a one percentage point increase from last year and the highest level since 2005.

Drops were seen with other minority groups, though. About 70 fewer Hispanic students enrolled this fall, lowering the group’s enrollment percentage about a point to 3.4 percent. Both Native Americans and Asian Americans were enrolled at a lower rate this year, but each saw a decrease of less than one percentage point.

The proportion of white students increased by 4 percentage points, to 67 percent.

University President Mary Sue Coleman lauded the University’s outreach efforts, but said more needs to be done to ensure minority enrollment doesn’t taper off.

“While we are pleased with holding our own with regard to underrepresented students, we cannot become complacent in our diversity efforts,” she said in a written statement. “There is still much work to do.”

Still, the University has fared better than some schools in other states that also banned affirmative action.

In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action. Most state schools there saw immediate plunges in underrepresented minority admissions and enrollment.

That same year, Texas outlawed the use of racial preferences in higher education. Since then, minority enrollments at public schools there have stayed about the same, largely due to the fact that the state has implemented a controversial Top 10 rule. The system guarantees admission to every state school to any student who finishes in top 10 percent of his high school class.

After Washington state voters banned affirmative action there in 1999, the state’s two largest schools, the University of Washington and Washington State University, saw underrepresented minority enrollment drop by a third.

Florida became the first state to voluntarily ban affirmative action in 2000, implementing a plan similar to the one in Texas. Admission and enrollment numbers have stayed consistent since the ban.

University officials have long touted diversity as one the school’s best qualities. Even since the passage of Proposal 2, the University, which fought to continue using affirmative action before the Supreme Court in 2003, has continued targeted recruiting at inner-city schools. Officials have repeatedly said that nothing legally restricts them from recruiting a certain way.

Senior Vice Provost Lester Monts said the University of Michigan’s ability to hold underrepresented minority enrollment numbers steady is a small victory when contrasted with other colleges that have faced affirmative action bans.

“Underrepresented minority student enrollment has plummeted at several major public universities operating under similar laws in other states,” he said in a press release.

A relatively new admissions tool, Descriptor Plus, may be one reason the University avoided significant drops in underrepresented minority enrollment. The service, which the University implemented in admissions last year, provides information about applicants’ socioeconomic background based on demographics of their neighborhood and high school. University officials have said the system helps admissions officers create diverse incoming classes without knowing an applicant’s race or gender.

“It’s not a device that’s oriented solely at social or ethnic diversity,” said Chris Lucier, director of recruitment and operations for the University’s undergraduate admissions office, in an interview with the Daily last year. “It’s another tool for us to identify populations that might not have access to higher education as other populations.”

Because Descriptor Plus only accounts for geographic and educational statistics — and not racial or ethnic ones — the system is legal under the ban, Lucier said.

In an effort to counteract the ban, the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan created a race- and gender-based scholarship program shortly after Proposal 2 passed. As a 501(c)3 organization, the Alumni Association is not legally restricted by the constraints of Proposal 2.

Despite all-time freshman enrollment records being set at the University’s Dearborn and Flint campuses, fewer freshmen enrolled at the Ann Arbor campus this year compared to last year. Altogether, 5,783 freshmen enrolled for the fall term — down from last year’s 5,992. As a result, slightly fewer students are enrolled at the University as a whole this year (41,028) compared to last year (41,042).

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