Admitting more diverse students doesn’t necessarily create a more diverse student body, finds a new working paper presented at the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting.
The paper profiles a Texas state policy, which guarantees students in the top 10% of their high school class admission to all state-funded universities, including the state’s most selective public universities, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University, College Station. Implemented in 1998, the policy was designed to increase black and Latino enrollment at the two flagship institutions after a federal court banned race-based affirmative action in Texas.
But an analysis of nearly 20 years of data suggests that despite admitting top-performing students from each of the state’s high schools—including those that serve predominately black and Latino populations—the 10% policy didn’t increase black and Latino yield at UT Austin or Texas A&M.
In fact, the 10% policy failed to draw in students from high schools outside of the flagship institutions’ traditional feeder schools. “We found that high schools were just as likely to send students to the flagships after the policy as they were before,” explains Daniel Klasik, an assistant professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and co-author of the working paper. “This is true whether we consider just the first five years of the top 10 percent plan or our entire 18 years of post-policy data.”
And this is notable considering the Latino population has grown statewide, suggest Klasik and co-author Kalena Cortes, an economist at Texas A&M. For instance, while the share of the college-age Latino students in Texas is 47%, Latino students make up only 21% of students at UT Austin.
So why, despite automatically admitting high-achieving black and Latino students, has the 10% policy not yet increased black and Latino yield at the two universities?
For starters, “[e]ven the most qualified underrepresented students are more likely to enroll at less selective institutions and community colleges or to opt out of higher education altogether,” reads an EAB Enrollment Management Forum study. These students most commonly doubt their ability to afford college, to succeed academically once enrolled, or fit in on campus, according to the study.
But Cortes says that she doesn’t think cost is a factor, since many students go on to attend state institutions with similar tuitions. She also dismisses the lack of academic preparedness, noting that most of the black and Latino students accepted to the flagship universities had high SAT and ACT scores.
One factor that did seem to make a difference was recruitment efforts, the researchers note. For instance, high schools were more likely to send their top black and Latino students to UT Austin and Texas A&M when the universities combined extra recruitment efforts with a small amount of scholarship funds. More specifically, high schools that received extra outreach from UT Austin and Texas A&M were 17% and 13% more likely to send students to the respective universities, according to the researchers.
The EAB Enrollment Management Forum study also found that proactive communication with admitted students can be an effective tactic for colleges and universities looking to enroll more high-achieving, underrepresented students.
For instance, the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor proactively reaches out to high-achieving, low-income students in the state, as well as their parents and high school principals, to emphasize the university’s affordability and the students’ academic ability. Using GPA and test score data, UM targets small towns and counties that they don’t typically recruit from. “Students from these communities assumed the university was unaffordable and that they would not be admitted,” the EAB study reads. “In some cases, students had never even heard of the University of Michigan.”
“We take it for granted” that students will know prestigious institutions and the benefit of attending them, says Cortes. “But many of these students have no idea what the difference is between the different campuses.”
The EAB study also recommends that colleges connect admitted students with alumni or peers for “social proof” that the school will be a good fit.
EMs and admission staff can enhance interactions between admitted students and current students (or alumni) both in person and online. For instance, the University of Washington pays student ambassadors to visit high schools while already home on breaks. And San Jose State University asks students, faculty, staff, and alumni to share their own experiences as first-generation college students on social media.
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