How Will the New Affirmative Action Controversies Affect Your Scholarship/Financial Aid Search?

January 26th, 2007 by Amelia

If you haven’t been paying attention, Affirmative Action is under fire in the college/university realm. At the epicenter is Michigan, which has recently passed a proposition—a.k.a. the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative,—a la California’s Proposition 209 passed in 1996. California’s landmark law made it illegal for state colleges and universities, as well as any other public institution, to consider college admissions and financial aid on the basis of gender, color, race, creed or nationality.

But for the last few decades that is exactly how colleges and universities have diversified. The last decade itself saw scads of science, engineering and technology (SET) scholarships targeted specifically and unabashedly to minorities and women. If you listen to such watch-dog organizations as the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO) then you will likely be influenced to believe that higher education is now turned on its ear racially. Others argue for the gender side—white males are a minority on college campuses, thanks to years of preferential scholarships for minorities and women.

Yes, it’s one big messy Pandora’s Box and everyone has a gripe.

How We Do “Race-Blind”?

“Race-blind” is the new buzzword in college admissions. But the issue encompasses gender as well. For college students all this political rhetoric and positioning portends a muddle of scholarship and financial aid shifts, including careful rewording of applications and criteria and selection rationale. But will it change anything, really?

The New York Times (Colleges Regroup After Voters Ban Race Preferences, Lewin) today suggests that colleges and universities en masse will scramble to find their way around the issues, alter application criteria to include more ambiguous terms all the while staying ON race:

“At Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, a new admissions policy, without mentioning race, allows officials to consider factors like living on an Indian reservation or in mostly black Detroit, or overcoming discrimination or prejudice.”

Popular Vote—Who’s Popular?

Michigan’s Proposition 2, it’s noted, was passed by a “popular vote” of 52 to 48, “despite strong opposition from government, business, labor, education and religious leaders.” Since the issue now polarizes voters, and it’s unclear how many of those are college students registered to vote, the question becomes WHO exactly is getting out the vote?

If you’re looking at colleges, especially public, this will likely affect you, regardless of your color, race, creed or sex. And the issue is becoming pervasive:

“Both defenders and opponents of affirmative action say the lesson of last fall’s campaign in Michigan…is that such initiatives can succeed almost anywhere.”

It would be interesting if the demographics of the vote in Michigan were available; for instance, how many African American, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, and women voted for the measure? Better yet, how telling it might be to actually see the numbers of registered college voters that participated. Because once all is said and done this may be THE minority group we’re talking about.

Even though the CEO and others may argue that race is sucking the life out of college admissions and financial aid, there are just as many others that argue killing Affirmative Action will assuredly set off a juggernaut of racial inequality on campuses across the U.S. How do they suppose that?

Race-Blind Undoes Diversity Measures

Follow-up to the California Proposition 209 and similar measures in Texas have proven the theory. UCLA’s numbers on Blacks, Hispanics and Asians entering next gen classes have been incrementally dropping since 209 was passed. In fact, according to the NYT Black freshmen at UCLA are at a “30-year low.” Texas universities revealed similar scores, which subsequently impelled officials to once again include race in the admissions criteria for public universities.

Since it seems that nationwide campus diversity will continue to be a bugaboo for institutions regardless of the “popular vote,” which I’d argue is largely post-college, what can be done to maintain fairness and diversity?

Wayne State University in Detroit set one of its law professors on the problem. His job was to develop a workable plan that jumps through Michigan’s new legal measures, while at the same time it discreetly circumnavigates the brouhaha. Carefully worded language and rephrased criteria that summarily avoid the word “race,” instead troll for students based on:

“…first in the family to go to college or graduate school; having overcome substantial obstacles, including prejudice and discrimination; being multilingual; and residence abroad, in Detroit or on an Indian reservation.”

New Age of Scholarships and Financial Aid

Yes, there are changes afoot, but how drastically they will change is hard to say. Colleges and universities know they must find a way to stay the course with diversity measures at the same time they must respect the law. In the future you will find that your “disadvantage,” whatever it may be, must be approached from a more subtle aspect. Students who mention race, gender and any other Affirmative Action-related labels and terms may be pushed aside in the name of the law.

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