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Race and College Admissions: One University’s Success

Race and College Admissions: One University’s SuccessThe U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in the University of Michigan cases have provided additional — if somewhat confusing — guidelines on affirmative action admission policies for colleges and universities. At this point, one thing does seem certain — the issue isn’t going away.
Discussions — pro and con — will continue to be commonplace on campus. For example, a 4.0 grade point student who happens to be Black told me recently that some White students assume — until observing his exemplary achievement in class — that he’s an “affirmative action admit.” He wasn’t complaining. It was just a statement of fact.
Is the assumption unfair to this brilliant young man? Absolutely. Will it have any lasting impact on him? I hope not.  
But what will affect our graduates — students of color and Whites alike — is the opportunity to work, study and play with those who are unlike them, whether that diversity be the result of racial, religious, geographic or socioeconomic differences.
In 1969, I was one of only a handful of African American students to graduate from Miami University. Some three decades later, I returned to become this university’s provost. I’ve observed firsthand that our commitment to diversity has made Miami a better place for all students, not just students of color.   
There are numerous pedagogical reasons supported by excellent research to back up that statement, but I find the most convincing argument to nonacademics is a bottom-line explanation. Employers want and need graduates who can function effectively in the global economy of the 21st century. 
That’s probably why 60 major American corporations, including General Electric, Procter & Gamble and Coca Cola, filed briefs supporting the University of Michigan’s enrollment policies as did 28 retired, high-ranking officers from the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.  
But despite the attention surrounding the University of Michigan cases, most universities will not be affected by this new ruling because they don’t have selective admission policies. Miami, however, does. This year, we had 13,900 applications for 3,450 slots.
Faced with a glut of excellent applicants, how does one choose? There is no one method. The University of Michigan evaluated its undergraduate applicants via a point system, which critics called a quota. The Supreme Court clearly has invalidated Michigan’s approach, but what impact will the decision have on different plans?
At Miami, we think the fairest way to allocate a limited number of places among many strong applicants is to examine the context for each student’s achievements. In fact, each application is reviewed by at least two readers who evaluate prospective students by looking at 18 factors. Grades and test scores are considered, but so are letters of recommendation and whether a student has overcome adversity. Is she the first in her family to go to college? Is there a record of exceptional leadership or athletic ability?
Race is considered, but it is considered in context.
Thus, a high-school senior who is African American and whose mother is a physician and whose father is an engineer and who has been a mediocre student at a top high school is not likely to get any special consideration. But the same ACT score and grade point average from an African American student who attended a high school that sends only 25 percent of its graduates on to college will get a second look by us.
Miami has always admitted students whose ACT or SAT scores may be below our average, but who have special talents in the arts, athletics or who show real initiative, but don’t test well. These students — the majority of whom are White — must participate in a program that provides special academic support. 
The results of our careful admission policies and mentoring programs speak for themselves. Miami has the seventh-highest graduation rate in the nation for major public universities. More than 88 percent of our multicultural students return for their sophomore year. The national average is 63 percent (73 percent for selective institutions).  And our graduation rate for African Americans is higher than at any other of the 13 public universities in Ohio.
As we carefully evaluate the Supreme Court’s June 23 decisions, my hope is that Miami’s highly successful admission policies will not be affected.   — Dr. Ronald A. Crutcher is provost, chief academic officer and professor of music at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.

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