This top public university is getting more diverse in spite of a ban on affirmative action

In welcoming its freshman class to campus last fall, the University of Michigan did something that it has been incapable of achieving over the past decade.

It increased the minority students in its 2015 freshman class by almost 20% — its highest since 2005, The New York Times reported.

After 2005, there was a steep decline in minority students following a ban on affirmative action that Michigan voters passed into law in 2006. Since then, the percentage of minority students has been languishing.

Kedra Ishop, Michigan’s enrollment manager, was hired in 2014 to shape the incoming class. The strategies being used to increase diversity at Michigan, like giving priority to low-income students, weren’t succeeding in increasing the percentage of minority students at the school.

Ishop switched the focus to increasing Michigan’s yield — a measure of the percentage of students who accept after being offered a slot. To do this, faculty members called students to encourage them to accept their offers. The school also changed the term “student aid” to “tuition scholarships,” realising that families were more likely to accept assistance branded in the latter fashion.

Lastly, no one was admitted off of the waiting list, which favours higher income white and Asian students who can afford to leave a deposit, according to the Times.

Ishop’s strategies paid off. The number of black and Latino freshmen increased by 23.5% from 2014 to 2015, and the number of white and Asian freshmen fell.

University of Michigan Ann ArborWikimedia CommonsThe University of Michigan

Michigan’s accomplishment may provide a harbinger of hope for universities across the US that are watching the deeply important Fisher v. University of Texas (UT) case unfold in the Supreme Court.

Fisher v. UT will determine whether it’s constitutional for the University of Texas at Austin to consider race as one factor in its admission policy.

The plaintiff — a white woman named Abigail Fisher who was denied admission to the Texas’ flagship public university in 2008 — claims her race played a factor in her rejection, and that UT accepted less-qualified nonwhite students.

The outcome of the case could have a far-reaching impact on the ability of universities around the US to consider race in admissions.

But Michigan is not yet claiming victory in the diversity arena, noting that one admissions class does necessarily signal sustained success in achieving a diverse student body.

Some of that hesitation may relate to other data points about how affirmative action policies in other states may be affecting minority students. A New York Times article plotted the percentage of black and Hispanic students at certain colleges in states pre- and post-ban.

California banned affirmative action in 1998, and since then, the percentage of black students at Berkeley has decreased, from 4% in 1998 to 2% in 2011.

The same is true for University of California at Los Angeles, where black students declined from 4% to 3% over the same period.

Still, the impact of affirmative action bans on non-white students isn’t clear. At some schools, rates of enrollment of Hispanic students actually increased after affirmative action bans were put in place. At Berkeley, the Hispanic student population went from 9% in 1998 to 11% in 2011, and at U.C.L.A from 13% to 17%.

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