Mar 1, 2023 - News

University of Texas diversity tactic in jeopardy

Illustration of a cracked mortar board.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A key component of how the University of Texas aims to attract a diverse student body could soon be undone.

  • Many applicants to the state's flagship university in Austin receive a so-called holistic review that takes race and ethnicity into account — along with grades, essays, language spoken at home, leadership qualities and standardized-test scores.

Driving the news The U.S. Supreme Court is widely expected to rule later this year that schools can't explicitly consider applicants' race.

Why it matters: A diverse student body, which can foster a more enriching educational experience for all students, is under threat.

Between the lines: UT officials are old hands at reshaping their admissions policies to try to build a diverse set of students.

Flashback: In 1996 a federal court struck down UT Law School's affirmative-action admissions policy, in Hopwood v. Texas, for Cheryl Hopwood, one of four white students who sued the university alleging they had been discriminated against because the law school gave preferential treatment to people of color.

  • The state then adopted a form of affirmative action that has held up to lawsuits by guaranteeing admission to all state universities for students who graduated in the top 10% of their Texas high-school class.
  • The rule is now limited to the top 6% at UT Austin.
  • By guaranteeing admission to students from all parts of the state, including from high schools that are chiefly Black or Latino, the law has increased geographic and racial diversity in the admissions process.

Between the lines: Today, at least three-fourths of UT's freshmen from Texas gain admission that way.

  • Most other applicants receive the holistic review.

The intrigue: The current Supreme Court challenges to affirmative action policies were spearheaded by Edward Blum, a UT alum who has previously attacked the university's admissions policies.

By the numbers: UT's 52,384 undergraduate and graduate students in the fall were 34.6% White, 24.8% Hispanic, 21.1% Asian and 5.3% Black.

What they're saying: UT officials declined to make anyone in the admissions office or president's office available for an Axios interview about how the university is planning for a post-affirmative-action landscape.

  • "The ruling itself is pretty unpredictable and so it could be very far reaching or it could be more narrow, it could go in either direction," Julie J. Park, an associate professor in the College of Education at the University of Maryland, told Axios.
  • "Institutions are just going to be scrambling," she said.

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