ACE Report Examines Race, Class in College Admissions

By Allie Arcese, Sr. Director of Strategic Communications & Engagement

By Allie Bidwell, Communications Staff

A recently-released report from the American Council on Education (ACE) details how issues of race and class affect college and university admission practices today.

ACE, along with UCLA’s Civil Rights Project and Pearson’s Center for College & Career Readiness, surveyed 338 nonprofit four-year institutions that together enrolled 2.7 million students and handled more than 3 million applications in 2013-14.

“Now more than ever, institutional leaders require the knowledge and tools needed to meet mission-critical diversity goals,” said Lorelle Espinosa, assistant vice president of ACE’s Center for Policy Research and Strategy, in a statement. “Our aim is to complement the great work being done by our partners and others to ensure institutions are in the best position to further diversity goals now and in the future.”

One of the main findings of the report centered around how college and university admission staff have reacted to the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case involving affirmative action in admission policies. Among the most selective colleges, 60 percent said they currently consider race in the admissions process. And overall, about one-quarter of institutions said they increased their focus on collecting admissions and enrollment data on the socioeconomic and first-generation status of students after the Fisher decision.

Still, the researchers found that “very little has changed” when it comes to the importance of admissions factors – just 13 percent of institutions said the Fisher decision affected their admissions or enrollment management practices.

“One of the challenges for American higher education in the wake of the [Fisher] decision has been the lack of effective exchange of research, data and plans,” said Gary Orfield, distinguished professor and co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, in a statement. “Advancing equal educational opportunity requires sharing lessons learned in pursuit of promising diversity strategies.”

“The story of affirmative action law and policy is still unfolding and researchers must respond to the needs of institutions,” Orfield said. “Our data show how the more selective institutions, of which 60 percent consider race in admissions, need additional research and guidance on critical mass.”

The survey also showed the admission practices that get the most attention in the media and elsewhere – such as reduced emphasis on legacy admissions, test-optional admissions and percentage plans – are generally the least common among institutions.

“Diversity matters to higher education institutions. It matters across sectors, selectivity ranges, and university contexts. Our data are clear on that point,” said Matthew Gaertner, senior research scientist at Pearson’s Center for College & Career Readiness, in a statement. “But we also see that the diversity strategies institutions are pursuing most frequently are not always the initiatives receiving attention from researchers and the press. We need better alignment across those constituencies – practitioners, scholars and the media – if we hope to move best practices forward and help institutions advance access and diversity.”


Publication Date: 7/24/2015

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