What California’s Ban on Equal Opportunity Did to Campus Diversity
As America waits for the Supreme Court to determine whether or not to dismiss precedent and upend campus diversity and racial equality in institutions of higher education in the Fisher v. University of Texas case, a quick look at California's ban on equal opportunity policies paints a vivid picture of where the rest of the nation might be headed if the justices decide to do away with federally mandated equal opportunity protection.
In 1996, California passed Proposition 209, an amendment introduced by Ward Connerly that changed the state’s constitution to disallow the consideration of sex, ethnicity and race in government office appointments and higher education admissions.
The proposition, also misleadingly called the “California Civil Rights Initiative," not only ended racial equal opportunity efforts on California college campuses but also prohibited race-conscious outreach and financial aid.
Since California and the University of California Board of Regents's passage of Prop. 209 just over 16 years ago, analysts have proliferated countless reports on the consequences of prohibiting race consideration in university admissions policies. In some cases, those predictions have become reality and the repercussions are substantial.
A report released by the University of California's President's Office stated that the implementation of race-neutral policies resulted in a dramatic decrease of underrepresented minorities on University of California campuses.
“The University saw an immediate drop in applications from African American, American Indian, and Latino graduates,” stated the report, which examined the admissions trajectory from 1995 to 2002. In 1995, when equal opportunity measures were still in place, underrepresented minorities were admitted to Berkeley stood at 54.6 percent, at Santa Barbara it was 75.4 percent, and 69 percentat Irvine.
Just three years later representation at Berkeley had plummeted to 20 percent, Santa Barbara to 58 percent, and Irvine fell to 55.8 percent.
Besides a drop in the numbers of minorities accepted into to these California universities, there was also a drop in the number of minority students who accepted their offer of admission.
16 years have passed since Prop. 209’s initial adoption and thanks to the "race-neutral" policy, racial inequality in California institutions of higher education remains a serious problem.
Despite a number of measures adopted in attempts to re-diversify student populations, underrepresented minority numbers remain significantly smaller than the student body at large. Even in some of the Golden State’s most selective universities like UC Berkeley and UCLA, minority populations have yet to bounce back from the devastating effects of eliminating race consideration in their admission policies.
Figures on diversity at the University of California report that the gap between minorities graduating from California public high schools and minorities enrolled at the University of California has also grown 5 percentage points, from 18 percent to 23 percent meaning young people of color are looking elsewhere to fulfill their higher education and diverse student body needs.
Anne De Luca, Associate Vice chancellor for Admissions and Enrollment at UC Berkeley told the Daily Californian that, unfortunately, many highly qualified high school seniors are choosing to attend other universities because UC Berkeley cannot match the race-based scholarships that other institutions are able to provide. In many instances, race was just one aspect of a larger picture that UC Berkeley paints for each student. “We’re trying to understand the full context of a student’s experience – what have they done with the opportunities they have been provided, how they respond to the challenges in their lives.” For Ms. De Luca, race plays a crucial role in painting that larger picture.
A Supreme Court ruling in favor of Abigail Fisher would have little effect on California since it did away with race consideration long ago. However, California serves as an example of what will happen if the courts rule to strike down the right for public institutions of higher education to try and balance the scales of equality and promote diversity on college campuses through their admissions processes. Side with Fisher and the nation will suffer a great setback to progress in ensuring all Americans have equal access to higher education and a shot at economic prosperity.
Jennifer Hicks is a Communications Intern for Campus Progress.