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Civil Rights Commission Finds Fault With Percentage Plans

Civil Rights Commission Finds Fault With Percentage Plans
Panel says plan is no substitute for actively recruiting students of color
By Charles Dervarics

So-called “percentage plans” that guarantee college admission to students who finish near the top of their high school graduating classes do not promote diversity or successfully reach underrepresented groups, according to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Venturing into a potential political minefield given some states’ support for these programs, the commission nonetheless has issued a report asserting that such policies are not substitutes for comprehensive efforts to recruit and support students of color.

“Simply guaranteeing admission to a certain percentage of students is not enough. The plans must be supplemented with proactive recruitment, financial aid, outreach and academic support programs,” says Dr. Mary Frances Berry, chairwoman of the commission.

The report examined efforts in California, Texas and Florida to replace some or all affirmative action policies with a college admission plan based on students’ class rank. The policy began in Texas following the Hopwood v. State of Texas decision, which curtailed affirmative action in the region. In its place, the state guarantees public college admission to the top 10 percent of its high school classes.

Minority enrollment that declined severely after Hopwood has rebounded, the study says. But enrollment in many areas is below pre-Hopwood levels. For example, minority enrollment at the University of Texas School of Law remains down about 7.5 percent from the year following Hopwood.

At the undergraduate level, minority applications to the University of Texas-Austin have increased since the start of the percentage plans. Yet fewer Blacks are admitted to the school, and the number of those actually enrolling has declined, says the report, Beyond Percentage Plans: The Challenge of Equal Opportunity in Higher Education.

From 1996 to 2001, the number of African Americans applying to UT-Austin increased by 25 percent. Yet the percentage of applicants admitted declined by 19 percent.

In Florida, African Americans continue to be underrepresented in higher education as they were immediately after the state enacted the affirmative action ban. The same trend is evident among Hispanics at more selective universities, the commission said. In California, plans to use alternate measures to overcome a ban on race did not stem reductions in enrollment among African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians in the University of California system overall. However, the declines were particularly evident at UC’s top-tier universities, namely the Berkeley, Los Angeles and San Diego campuses, commission staff say.

“If percentage plans grow in popularity, it is inevitable that the number of minority students attending the most prestigious public universities will decrease,” Berry says. Percentage plans can work only if affirmative action is in place and students also receive adequate financial aid and support services.

For more information, contact the commission at (202) 376-8317 or visit the Web site at .

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