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College Board Calls for Broader Coalition, Dialogue to Boost Diverse Student Body

The College Board on Friday issued a new policy paper to assist colleges and universities seeking to maintain a diverse student body in the wake of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action as well as voter initiatives on the state level to ban race as a factor in public higher education.

The recommendations included building broad-based coalitions to inform policy development; conveying the relative costs and benefits associated with diversity and the rationale to consider race in certain admissions cases; and pursuing public education campaigns associated with the benefits of diversity.

The policy paper, called “From Federal Law to State Voter Initiatives: Preserving Higher Education’s Authority to Achieve the Educational, Economic, Civic, and Security Benefits Associated With a Diverse Student Body,” was commissioned by the Access and Diversity Collaborative in response to the voter-approved Michigan state constitutional amendment forbidding the use of race, ethnicity, or gender in public education.

According to lead author Arthur L. Coleman, the paper was written in response to the questions posed in the light of Michigan Proposal 2 and other ballot initiatives in Washington, California and the executive order in Florida.

“It was an effort to educate higher ed leaders in order to preserve their diversity goals… and to provide strategies to legitimize the need for the compelling nature of diversity in their institutions,” Coleman says.

A number of strategies to deflect or defeat voter initiatives need to be considered, say the authors. Coalition groups need to be built not only with education leaders, but also with business, military, government and other leaders to help shape future policy. Advocacy should reach across a broad spectrum of people, and must represent everyone’s interests. Finally, besides full-scale public discourse about the benefits of a diverse student body, the report says “the complexities and nuances of research regarding the many benefits associated with student diversity must be effectively translated into common-sense propositions that have meaning to voters.”

Coleman says it is important for all pieces of the strategies to work together cohesively.

“We can’t divorce the message from the messenger, or policy from the public perception,” he says. “This is for college leaders to go beyond the four corners of their institution and do the educationally smart thing and the legally right thing.”

In conclusion, the report says it is important that higher education leaders not

lose sight of the core issues and challenges associated with access, opportunity and diversity throughout the education pipeline.

“Thus, attention to longer term investments (such as support for pipeline-building programs) and shorter term strategies (such as rigorous evaluation and pursuit of all available avenues — race-conscious and race-neutral — likely to advance institutional goals) can frame a comprehensive and coherent action agenda that is compelling in the court of law, just as it is in the court of public opinion,” says the report.

By Shilpa Banerji

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