San Diego State promotes diversity without affirmative action

by Adam Burkhart

The Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas last month leaves open the possibility of states, including California, using an applicant’s race as one of many factors for college admission.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, which upheld the court’s previous decisions in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) and Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) that achieving diversity in education is a compelling interest of states.

“The big news about the case is that there was no big news,” San Diego State management professor Dan Eaton said. “What the court did was reaffirm that it’s tough to use race in college admissions or any other public program, and the court sent it back to the lower court to apply that tough standard.”

The Supreme Court ordered the lower court to apply strict scrutiny in determining whether the means the University of Texas used in admissions fit closely with its compelling interest to achieve diversity.

The court must find that there is no other way for the University of Texas to achieve its objective of a diverse student population for its admissions policy to be constitutional, Eaton said.

Since Proposition 209 was passed in 1996, California schools do not consider race as a component in admissions. The proposition amended the state’s constitution to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex or ethnicity in public institutions.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris asked the court to rule in favor of the University of Texas, saying the ban in California hasn’t made schools more diverse and has harmed students of all races. Harris said California wants more flexibility from federal law to use race in admissions’ policies, if voters ever decide to repeal Proposition 209.

In a separate brief filed with the court, the University of California attested that it witnessed a serious decline in minority admissions and enrollment after the passage of Proposition 209, and asked the court to rule in favor of the respondents.

The UC president and chancellors wrote in the brief that the year after Proposition 209 passed, enrollment of Latino, African American and Native American freshmen dropped by approximately 50 percent at its two most highly competitive colleges.

The UC system has used a policy of admitting a certain percentage of top graduates from each high school to mitigate impacts to diversity, similar to the University of Texas, which has a top 10 percent policy.

The California State University system, which draws from a larger pool of students in the top third of the statewide graduating class, was not as greatly affected as the UC system.

At SDSU, African-American student enrollment dropped 27 percent between 1995 and 2012, from 5.4 percent of the student population to 3.7 percent. In the same period, enrollment for Mexican-American and Hispanic students increased 67 percent, from 18.4 percent to 28.7 percent of the population, mirroring trends system-wide.

Enrollment of Asian and Pacific Islanders remained fairly constant at around 13.9 percent of the population.

The most precipitous drop in enrollment has been among American Indians who made up 1 percent of students in 1995 but only 0.3 percent in 2012.

Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs Sandra Cook said she thinks SDSU is doing well when it comes to diversity compared to schools nationwide. She attributes this to demographics in Southern California.

“You should see our application pool, it’s pretty diverse,” Cook said.

SDSU also gives highest priority to students of local community colleges, Cook said.

“There’s some people that think you’re not doing enough about diversity if your student population doesn’t reflect the population of the community,” Cook said.

She added that it’s reasonable to expect a lag in demographic numbers where a population is changing.

SDSU attempts to tap local sources of diversity through its many outreach programs and partnerships with local schools, targeting children in primary and secondary schools who may not otherwise be encouraged to attend college.

The College Avenue Compact is a partnership program SDSU has with Rosa Parks Elementary, Monroe Clark Middle and Hoover High schools guaranteeing students who meet certain benchmark requirements admission to SDSU.

A similar program is the Compact for Success, led by SDSU and Sweetwater Union High School District. It also guarantees students who meet college preparation requirements in high school admission into SDSU, while also giving them opportunities to meet with advisers and to study abroad.

The University of California has used similar programs as these in order to maintain diversity on its campuses, while conforming to California’s anti-discrimination laws.