Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Minority admissions fall at U-M

Enrollment in state not greatly impacted by ballot initiative; law, medicine hit hardest.

Marisa Schultz / The Detroit News

The University of Michigan has seen an 8 percent decline in underrepresented minority freshman enrollment since it began using a race-blind admissions system after the voter-approved initiative Proposal 2 passed in 2006.

The drop comes at time when the state's 14 other public universities -- which said they had not previously used affirmative action in admissions -- saw an increase in the number of black, Latino and Native American freshman students on their campuses, according to a Detroit News analysis of 2008 admissions statewide.

The numbers suggest the ballot initiative that barred race from admissions didn't significantly impact the number of underrepresented minorities at public universities overall. But it likely contributed to smaller percentages of minority students admitted at the state's most prestigious university and the top professional schools.

U-M leaders believe they were able to safeguard against dramatic drops in minority enrollment by learning from the experiences of elite public universities in California and Washington, whose minority enrollment plummeted after affirmative action was outlawed in those states. In response, U-M initiated aggressive targeted outreach efforts to persuade qualified minority students to enroll and employed new tools to identify potential students from underrepresented high schools and neighborhoods.

"We had these preemptive measures to offset what we knew would happen," U-M Senior Vice Provost Lester Monts said. "The proof of that is California and Washington. We were able to benefit from some of the mistakes and put in place things here the other universities didn't have the experience to do."

Michigan became the third state in the nation to outlaw affirmative action by way of ballot initiative when 58 percent of voters approved Proposal 2 in November 2006. A decade earlier, after California voters passed Proposition 209, underrepresented minority freshman enrollment at the University of California in Berkeley and Los Angeles nearly dropped by half. The University of Washington's freshman underrepresented minority enrollment dropped 30 percent in 1999, the year after voters there approved a similar ballot initiative.

At U-M, the 604 underrepresented minorities enrolled this fall comprised 10.4 percent of its freshman class, down from 10.9 percent last year when Proposal 2 was in effect for part of the admissions cycle and down from 12.2 percent in 2006, the last full year that affirmative action was employed in admissions decisions. There were 656 underrepresented minority students that year.

Walter Robinson, assistant vice chancellor for undergraduate admissions at UC Berkeley, was one of several college leaders who came to Michigan to share experiences with U-M leaders on achieving campus diversity without affirmative action.

"Just as Michigan learned from us, I'm curious to talk to my colleagues at Michigan and perhaps we can learn from them," Robinson said.

Ward Connerly, the former University of California regent who spearheaded ballot initiatives nationwide, is now stumping for Nebraska and Colorado voters to pass similar measures in November. He said he's curious how U-M prevented dramatic decline in minority enrollment. While the enrollment picture is complex, he "wonders if they have found a proxy for race that, we, the public just can't see yet," Connerly said.

"The purpose was never to reduce or alter the number of black or Latino kids that were admitted," Connerly said. "The purpose was to say that whoever is admitted would be admitted under the same standards."

U-M maintains that it is following the law, and recruitment efforts such as personalized phone calls are legal under Proposal 2 and have been critical in post-Proposal 2 diversity efforts, U-M leaders said.

Professional schools hit

While the minority numbers didn't plummet, some experts say they aren't looking at any decline as good news.

"If I were Michigan, I wouldn't be patting myself on the back for having lost fewer than Texas or California," said Michael A. Olivas, law professor and director of the University of Houston Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance. The numbers are especially troubling for Hispanic students, a population that is growing nationwide, he said.

The biggest shifts in minority enrollment occurred at the professional schools.

Fewer black, Latino and Native American students are training to be doctors and lawyers at Michigan's eight professional schools today than two years ago. This year, 135 underrepresented minority students enrolled at the eight professional schools, compared to 199 before Proposal 2 took effect.

U-M's law school, medical school, dental school as well as Wayne State University's law and medical school considered the race and ethnicity of applicants for these highly competitive spots.

Since the changes, U-M's law school and Wayne State's medical school have seen significant drops in underrepresented minority students. Combined black, Hispanic and Native American representation fell from 14.1 percent of the entering U-M law school class in 2006 to 9.1 percent in 2008.

"This isn't great, but it's not a tragedy," said Sarah Zearfoss, assistant dean at U-M's law school. Compared to law schools whose minority enrollment plummeted immediately after affirmative action was banned, the numbers could have been worse. At Berkeley's Boalt Hall, black first-year law enrollment fell from 20 in 1996 to one student in 1997.

At Wayne State's medical school, underrepresented minority enrollment dropped from 17.1 percent in 2006 to 6.1 percent this year.

Race "was certainly a significant factor but it cannot nearly explain this drop in enrollment," said Dr. Silas Norman Jr., assistant dean for admissions at Wayne State's medical school. "That's been the puzzling thing about this. ... It's not explained with race alone."

Leaders at Michigan State University say race was not a factor in admissions on campus, so their review process didn't have to change after Proposal 2.

Still, minority representation among first-year students has declined at MSU's colleges of human medicine, osteopathic medicine and veterinary medicine, as well as for undergraduate freshmen.

"We are looking carefully into the reason for the decline in the enrollment of students of color and I don't think we can point to any one solution and say this will fix it," said Paulette Granberry Russell, MSU's senior adviser to the president for diversity.

Financial aid affected

While U-M has been at the heart of the debate on Proposal 2 as the only state public university to admittedly use affirmative action in undergraduate admissions, the effects of the measure were still felt at other universities -- namely in the financial aid packages offered to minority students. Scholarships that considered race or gender were either shut down or reworked. Some colleges say the lack of these highly successful recruiting tools likely led to a drop in minority enrollment.

At Grand Valley State University, the number of black, Asian, Hispanic and Native American freshmen dropped 30 percent between 2006 and 2008. The drop coincides with the elimination of the full-tuition Bert Price Scholarship. Last year, 952 minority students received the awards. Existing scholarship recipients weren't affected, but its effect was evident in the 2008 entering class.

GVSU offered three new aid programs this year, each worth $3,000, which targeted lower income students, graduates of urban high school and students who participated in programs such as Upward Bound. But despite their best efforts, the minority enrollment -- particularly Asian and African American enrollment -- dropped sharply, a result that GVSU leaders say is unacceptable.

"A diverse campus is an intellectual asset, and I will be aggressive in identifying and implementing appropriate remedies to attract minority students to Grand Valley," President Thomas J. Haas said in a statement. "I anticipate Proposal 2 is a big reason for the drop."

Some universities are finding that minority students who were eligible for race-based scholarships many not be eligible for the new race-blind replacement scholarships.

Cordaye Ogletree, an African-American graduate of Detroit Renaissance High School, was lured to U-M by the Scholar Recognition Award, a full-tuition scholarship that took race and ethnicity into consideration. U-M had to scrap that award as well as the similar Michigan Scholar Award for out-of-state students, worth $15,000 in tuition, after Proposal 2. While Ogletree, now a junior at U-M, wasn't affected because his scholarship was promised before the law took effect, he wonders whether he would have landed at U-M without the offer.

After Proposal 2, U-M rolled out two new scholarships, the Michigan Tradition Award and the Michigan Experience Award.

Ogletree wouldn't meet the requirements for the Michigan Tradition scholarship; he's not a first-generation college student, he doesn't have a single-parent household and his parents are not considered low-income.

To help fill the gap, the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan offered new race- and gender-based merit scholarships.

You can reach Marisa Schultz at (313) 222-2310 or [log in to unmask]