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It is frequently taken for granted that racial diversity in higher education generates significant educational benefits that are highly valued by college students, parents of college students, college teachers, and employers who hire college graduates. As one example, that view of the alleged benefits of racial diversity in higher education is expressed here in a Detroit Free Press op-ed titled “What we have lost because of Michigan’s affirmative action ban” by UM regent Mark Bernstein and UM student Tyrell Collier:
Who are the victors at the University of Michigan after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s affirmative action ban? Not students who want to learn with — and from — other students who don’t look like themselves. Not researchers and scholars who value collaboration on diverse teams to solve big problems. Not employers who demand critical thinkers who are able to work with colleagues from vastly different backgrounds. And, most importantly, not our nation that needs leaders who are able to reach beyond their own identity to find inclusive solutions to our greatest challenges.
Eight years after Michigan voters passed Proposal 2 and banned the consideration of race and gender in admissions, we are still working through the wreckage. In order to serve the people of Michigan and the world, the University of Michigan needs to look like all of Michigan and the world. But we don’t.
In the aftermath of Proposal 2, the university has tried virtually every possible race-neutral approach to preserve diversity. These efforts include aggressive outreach to lower income applicants. Schools within the university have increased attention to recruiting minority applicants. We enlist minority students, faculty and alumni to help persuade more admitted minorities to enroll. Family educational background is utilized as a form of socioeconomic affirmative action. These efforts are not working.
In 2006, the last year race could be considered in the admissions process, African Americans accounted for 6.4% of the first-year class. By 2012, black enrollment fell 28%, to 4.6%. From 2006 to 2012, Hispanic enrollment fell 26%, from 5.3% to 3.9% of the first-year class.
When Proposal 2 passed, we lost the ability to utilize the best available tool to build a diverse educational community — affirmative action.
MP: In 1995, when the University of Michigan was mechanically granting 20 extra “points” to minority applicants based only on race, black students were nearly 9% of Michigan undergraduates. After that admissions practice was ruled to be unconstitutional in 2003, and following the decision by Michigan voters in 2006 to ban racial profiling in college admissions, black students currently represent only 4.6% of Michigan undergraduate students.
The reduction by one-half in black students at Michigan as a share of undergraduate from 8.9% in 1995 to 4.6% raises a few questions:
1. Proponents of affirmative discrimination and racial profiling in college admissions must now conclude that the value of the educational experience at Michigan has been eroded due to the reduction in racial diversity. If prospective and current students, along with their parents agreed that racial diversity has significant education benefits, and that those benefits have now been reduced, shouldn’t that be reflected in fewer applications to Michigan, and an increase in students transferring to other universities with greater racial diversity?
2. If employers value the educational benefits of racial diversity while earning a college degree, shouldn’t we see a decline in the number of employers willing to hire Michigan graduates, in favor of the graduates of other universities with greater racial diversity?
3. Overall, shouldn’t the reduction in racial diversity at Michigan lead to a devaluation of a Michigan degree by students, parents and employers?
Bottom Line: Following the reduction by half in the share of black students at Michigan, I don’t think the number of students applying to Michigan has decreased, I don’t think employers have decreased their demand for Michigan graduates, and I don’t think the value of a Michigan degree has changed. Perhaps that means that administrators, regents, and minority students assign some theoretical value to the educational benefits of racial diversity, but that most students, parents and employers realistically and practically value the academic reputation and standards of a university, and place little value on the educational benefits of racial diversity?
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