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Diversity: Here Today, More Tomorrow

Here Today, More TomorrowROCKVILLE, Md.
Haniee Chung, a 22-year-old spring honors graduate of Montgomery College, has an outlook on diversity that might sound strange to her elders.
“We’re used to it,” she says. “Really, a lot of people my age don’t think about the question of diversity much at all.”
Since the landmark U.S. Supreme Court rulings on affirmative action in June, however, Chung’s college and other two-year institutions have had to do a great deal of thinking about diversity. Specifically, about how they’re going to accommodate the expected flood of diversity overflow from four-year colleges afraid of running afoul of the new law of the land.
“The community colleges have become the most cosmopolitan institutions of higher education in the country,” says Dr. John E. Roueche, director of the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas. “The Supreme Court ruling is only going to accelerate that process.”
Roueche and other community-college experts are predicting that, as diverse as community colleges already are, their campuses will become even more heterogeneous as ethnic- and racial-minority students are either turned away from newly affirmative action-shy universities or opt for race-blind, two-year colleges on their own.
“There is going to be a substantial influx of students coming into the community-college system,” predicts Dr. Gail Kettlewell, director of the doctor of arts in Community College Education program at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. “And that is going to be on top of the growth we have already experienced as a result of diversity efforts.”
Minority enrollments have climbed by nearly 600,000 students in the past 10 years, and community colleges should expect an influx equal to or exceeding that in the next decade, according to Dr. George Boggs, president of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).
Arnold Kee, coordinator of minority services at the AACC, said it’s possible that the Supreme Court rulings could actually shunt some erstwhile community-college students from minority backgrounds into four-year colleges instead.
“It is possible that there could actually be more students admitted to four-year institutions who would have otherwise only before considered going to a community college,” he says.
But he adds, “The larger impact is still going to be in the direction of students coming into the community-college system.”
“In some ways it makes things more difficult and confusing for minority students trying to get into four-year schools, because everything regarding admissions and race will now have to be more carefully and narrowly drawn,” Roueche notes. “Community colleges, on the other hand, will seem more attractive because the process, by contrast, is so straightforward — there are generally no specific admissions policies that take race into account.”
Besides the fact that community colleges don’t consider race in their admissions policies, many educators suggest there is another reason two-year colleges’ diversity stands to gain from the rulings. When community colleges have approached the challenge of diversity, they note, they have done so on a school-wide basis.
“It’s a question of stepping forward, and going into local high schools and communities and getting the word out,” Boggs says. “Community colleges have been very aggressive on this point, and that’s why we have seen such an impressive response among minorities.”
In fact, it isn’t their efforts to diversify their student populations as much as it is their attempts to diversify their faculty and administrative pools that may give community colleges reason to fear future court decisions on affirmative action.
“We were frankly afraid that the Supreme Court was going to say that the kind of efforts made at schools like ours were improper,” says Judith P. Snyder, director of institutional equity and organizational development at the Community College of Baltimore County in Maryland.
Since at least the late l970s, the college has sponsored an annual analysis of its work force, the goal of which, Snyder said, “has been to see where in the work force there is a vacancy, which group is underrepresented, and how those two things, if possible, can be matched.”
Snyder noted that the emphasis has always been on matching a job to a person, not arbitrarily trying to fill a quota targeting a certain race or gender.
“Admittedly, the goal has been diversity in the community college workplace,” Snyder continues. “And I don’t think the Supreme Court ruling in any way negated that, although I am not ruling out the possibility that there won’t be further legal challenges to these kinds of efforts.”  — By Garry Boulard

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