More Blacks are studying at the University of Texas at Austin this semester than ever, breaking a record set the year a federal appeals court banned the use of race in admissions.
A record number of Hispanic students also are enrolled this semester, according to preliminary figures the university released Thursday.
The news comes two years after former president Larry Faulkner called for sweeping changes to make the campus more welcoming to students of color. Last year, the flagship university hired its first diversity officer.
“We are absolutely committed to an absolute top priority of making sure we have a diverse campus,” UT President William Powers said at a legislative hearing last week. He was not immediately available for comment Thursday.
Black student enrollment increased 5 percent to 1,939, and Hispanic student enrollment jumped 6 percent to 7,453. A total of 49,738 undergraduate, graduate and law school students are enrolled this semester.
Hispanic students now make up 15 percent of the student body, while Black students account for nearly 4 percent. White students account for 57 percent of the student body, while 14 percent are Asian. The rest of the students are American Indian, foreign or did not report their ethnicity.
UT had 1,911 Black students in the fall of 1996, shortly after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Cheryl Hopwood and three other white applicants who sued the UT law school after they were denied admission in favor of minority candidates.
Minority enrollment took a hit in the years that followed but has inched back up, partly because of a Texas law that guarantees acceptance to students who finish high school in the top 10 percent of their class. Hispanic enrollment has exceeded pre-Hopwood levels since 2002.
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Hopwood ruling in 2003 and said colleges and universities could use race as a factor when admitting students.
Gregory Vincent, UT’s vice president for diversity and community engagement, said university officials have worked for several years to make personal connections with students who might not have considered the school.
“We’re really sending the message that the University of Texas at Austin is a university where everyone can thrive,” he said.
Despite the progress, UT’s student body does not come close to mirroring the state population. According to the Texas State Data Center, 49 percent of Texans are white, 35 percent are Hispanic, 11 percent are Black and 5 percent are some other race.
Anthony Williams, a 20-year-old junior from San Antonio who is president of UT’s Black Student Alliance, said he’s noticed several positive changes around campus since he started college. For example, he said, the university selected a Hispanic man to be vice president for student affairs and a Black woman to be dean of students.
“Nobody can really complain about the progress,” said Williams, who is studying business and government. “You can always say that things could be better, but we are happy that things are changing for the better.”
— Associated Press
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