By Meagan Pant,
7:32 PM Sunday, February 26, 2012
This fall the U.S. Supreme Court case will hear a new case challenging whether colleges and universities can factor a student’s race in admissions decisions.
The latest case — filed by a white student who was denied admission to the University of Texas and is appealing “racial preferences” in higher education — may not have an immediate impact on the area’s universities including Miami University.
However, the case is a concern as many universities in Ohio trying to grow racial diversity on their campuses. In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that public colleges could take race into consideration and expected the topic would not be heard again until 2028.
“Colleges and universities did not expect to revisit this for another 25 years, so I think there’s a lot of consternation because it’s so soon,” said Kathy McEuen Harmon, University of Dayton assistant vice president and dean of admission and financial aid.
Miami and Ohio State universities consider race as part of the admissions process, while UD and Wright State University do not.
Minorities have been a growing segment of student population since the Supreme Court first approved affirmative action in higher education in the 1978 Bakke v. Regents of the University of California.
In 1980, minorities made up 16.1 percent of students nationwide. In 2009, that rate reached 34.3 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
In Ohio, 17 percent of students in 2010 were black, Hispanic or Asian, according to the Ohio Board of Regents.
In the case before the Supreme Court, Abigail Fisher claims the University of Texas discriminated against her because her grades “exceeded those of many of the admitted minority candidates.”
Texas has a “top 10” policy that said high school seniors in the top 10 percent of their classes would be admitted to Texas. The goal was to maintain racial and ethnic diversity without using race as a factor in the admissions process.
“I’m sure that the lawyers that are bringing this case before the Supreme Court think they have the right set of facts to seek, once and for all, an end to affirmative action programs,” said Paul Leonard, a WSU political science instructor.
“I think it’s a bit early, especially in the education arena, since costs are rising so fast. We’re just creating a new class of people who can’t afford it without help,” Leonard said.
Speculation about the impact of the latest case — Fisher v. Texas, No. 11-345, which will be heard in October — varies among university officials.
“Personally, I’m nervous about that because I think if it’s removed, it would have a negative impact,” said Dolan Evanovich, vice president of strategic enrollment planning at the Ohio State University.
UD’s Harmon said in a narrow sense, the case will impact institutions in Texas, “but I don’t know that it’s going to overturn affirmative action,” she said.
“I think it will point out the inequality of school districts, which is a good thing,” she said. “It could have a very good effect.”
OSU and Miami University do consider race for admissions, among other factors, including leadership experience, academics and more.
“The holistic review process allowed us to evaluate the whole student and use race as one of the criteria… but not as the only deciding factor,” said Dolan Evanovich, vice president of strategic enrollment planning at the Ohio State University.
Miami did not change its admission review process following the 2003 case and does not expect a change following the upcoming appeal, said Ann Larson, interim director of admission.
Miami’s minority enrollment at the Oxford campus increased by 485 undergraduate students since 2003 to reach 1,726 in 2011, according to the university.
Ohio State’s minority enrollment rose by 649 students during that time to 8,187 in 2011.
UD has seen a 60 percent increase in Hispanic students since 2007. In 2011, there were 650 undergraduate minority students on campus.
Student attitudes about affirmative action are divided, Leonard said of his current students. White students with the financial means to afford college generally feel the affirmative action programs should come to an end; while students who have benefited from or know someone who has benefited from affirmative action support continuing them, he added.
“There is a growing number of people who think this was not meant to be a permanent program,” said Leonard, a lawyer who also served as Ohio’s lieutenant governor, a state legislator and Dayton’s mayor.
“I think it’s clear with the pattern of what has happened over the last 20 years or so, that affirmative action is on its death bed,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time before the court, at some point in time, makes the decision to end affirmative action programs in America.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.