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Maintaining an Open Pipeline to Higher Education: Strategies that Work

Maintaining an Open Pipeline to Higher Education: Strategies that Work

Another academic year has come and gone and this edition of Black Issues allows us to celebrate the success of students of color. While we applaud these students, we must also address the fact that in order to increase the number of African American and other students of color graduating from college, we must first increase the numbers that are admitted to college. How we maintain an open pipeline to higher education for students of color has become a more challenging and often politically charged dilemma.  
Data from the Admission Trends Survey, administered annually by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, show that over the last decade, grades, admission test scores and class rank top the list of factors most important in the college admission process. Of particular importance is that the percentage of institutions identifying standardized test scores as “considerably important” has risen from 44 percent in 1989 to 58 percent in 2000. As the importance of standardized test scores increases, parents, teachers, guidance counselors and concerned community members must ensure that students of color are well prepared for these exams. Conversely, college admission professionals must ensure that test scores are used in the appropriate context — as just one of many academic indicators.
Recent court rulings and state actions have changed the landscape of race-sensitive admission. Many states have abandoned the use of race in the admission process, while others have modified their process to use race as one of many admission criteria. Thus the admission process has begun to take on a race-neutral approach that, in theory, offers no advantage or disadvantage to any particular group and preserves institutions’ commitment to diversity. However, in practice, this approach is meeting with mixed results.   
One race-neutral approach is the percentage — or class rank-based plan that provides guaranteed admission to all students graduating in the top “x percent” of their high school class. Ideally, the class rank plan levels the playing field between high schools in low income, urban areas and schools with greater economic resources.
Data from the University of Texas at Austin show that following the 1996 Hopwood decision, African American and Hispanic student enrollment dropped from 4 percent to 3 percent and from 14 percent to 13 percent respectively. In 1999, after two years of the top 10 percent plan, coupled with increased outreach and recruiting efforts, African American and Hispanic numbers have again reached their pre-Hopwood levels. In addition, a recent assessment of the Texas plan found that the number of high schools sending students to the UT-Austin campus increased 27 percent between 1996 and 2000.  The report notes that these “new sender” high schools represent two distinct groupings of schools — inner-city minority and rural White high schools. Hence the Texas data suggest that the use of the percentage plan, along with other recruitment measures, may have a positive impact on the enrollment of students of color.
In 2001, the first year of the 4 percent plan in the University of California system, African American, Hispanic and American Indian students accounted for 18.6 percent of in-state admitted students. This is up from 17.6 percent last year, and slightly below the 18.8 percent admitted during 1997, the last year race was considered in the admission process. However, the number of in-state students of color admitted to the most selective campuses, Berkeley and Los Angeles, increased by only 11 percent and 5 percent respectively. Consequently, the UC plan appears to have done little to provide access for students of color to its most selective campuses.   
If we are to maintain an open pipeline for students of color, we must employ to our advantage a combination of these strategies, including appropriate use of standardized testing, increased outreach and recruitment programs and a race-neutral admission process. The current political climate and the inevitability of the use of standardized testing demand that we embrace these strategies. 

— Dr. Zina L. Evans is director of research for the National
Association for College Admission Counseling.

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