The Associated Press

Many colleges and universities that use race as a factor in admissions already are looking at alternatives in case the U.S. Supreme Court outlaws such policies. Justices heard arguments over the University of Michigan’s admissions standards yesterday, but the case took years to make it to the high court.

With that and other lawsuits working their way through the legal system, “public and private institutions have been looking at contingency plans over the past several years,” said Sheldon Steinbach, the general counsel for the American Council on Education.

If race can no longer be used as a factor in admissions, schools may try to achieve diversity by stepping up minority recruitment efforts and looking more closely at applicants’ socio-economic status.

“The question for elite colleges in the wake of the Michigan case is whether students will be studying diversity in white classrooms,” said Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Schneider and other academics agree programs that recruit and prepare blacks, Hispanics and other underrepresented minorities for college would help maintain campus diversity in a post-affirmative action world. Part of the idea would be to simply let families know that the goal of a college education for their children is within their grasp.

Many in academe are now looking to California, which has had recruitment programs since 1996, when the state’s voters overturned affirmative action in a referendum.

“There has to be emphasis on the part of the higher education community – and the public sector in general – to promote more academic opportunity,” said James Sandoval, vice chairman for student affairs at the University of California at Riverside. “That’s the heart of the problem.”

With a strong minority presence on its campus, Hispanics and blacks comprise nearly 24 percent of its 17,000 students, UC Riverside has become something of a guide to other schools reviewing admissions. Sandoval attributed UC Riverside’s success in attracting blacks and Hispanics to a program that sends minority student recruiters out to recount their experiences on a campus that embraces diversity.

The University of California system also looks at an applicant’s socio-economic background to open its campuses to more low-income students. The University of Georgia has also stepped up its efforts to attract minorities after losing a court battle and dropping race from its admission formula last year.

Moving toward what university spokesman Tom Jackson called the “aggressive identification” of qualified students, Georgia has established satellite recruiting stations in minority areas of Atlanta and the southern part of the state. Although applications from minorities have declined, Jackson said Georgia hopes the number of black and Hispanics who accept invitations to join this fall’s freshman class will allow the university to maintain a diversity rate of 14 percent.

In emphasizing outreach and recruitment, college officials downplay so-called percentage plans in effect in Florida and Texas, where the admission to state institutions is based on high school class ranking.

Percentage plans were recently criticized by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, which filed a legal brief supporting affirmative action in the Michigan case. The Project released a report saying that without the support of financial aid, outreach and recruiting programs the plans alone do not lead to a significant increase in campus diversity.

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