Mar 9, 2023 - News

Affirmative action: Rice, UH diversity tactics in jeopardy

Illustration of a cracked mortar board.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Rice University and the University of Houston are among the universities that may have to reevaluate their longstanding admissions processes in a world without affirmative action.

Driving the news: The U.S. Supreme Court will rule later this year on whether schools can explicitly consider student applicants' race when making admissions decisions.

  • The court has sent just about every conceivable signal that it's likely to put a stop to those sorts of policies, Axios' Sam Baker reports.

Why it matters: A diverse student body can foster a more enriching educational experience for all students, and ending affirmative action could put that in jeopardy.

State of play: Applicants to Rice receive a so-called holistic review that takes race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status into account — along with grades, essays and standardized-test scores.

  • The University of Houston, the largest university in Houston by student enrollment, prides itself on its admissions page for being one of the most diverse universities in the nation.

By the numbers: Of the 1,200 undergraduate freshmen who enrolled at Rice in fall 2022 — a year with a record-low acceptance rate — 50% identified as white, 38% as Asian American, 19% as Hispanic or Latino, 12% as Black, and 2% as Indigenous.

  • Of the 46,700 students enrolled at UH, 33% are Hispanic or Latino, 22% are Asian American, 20% are white, 11% are Black, and 9% are international students, per the fall 2022 demographics report.
  • Of note: Black residents make up 23% of Houston's population and 45% of the city's population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, according to the latest census data.

What they're saying: Rice University said in a statement to Axios that the admissions office and general counsel are preparing for various outcomes.

  • "Regardless of the court's ruling, Rice remains steadfast in our commitment to uphold diversity as a core part of our educational experience. We will strive to do all we can, within the bounds of the law, to continue to admit and recruit a widely diverse student body."
  • UH did not respond for a comment.

Between the lines: Diversity has suffered at schools that have had to abandon affirmative action, Axios' Erin Doherty reports.

  • After Michigan banned affirmative action, Black undergraduate enrollment at University of Michigan dropped from 7% in 2006 to 4% in 2021.
  • California banned racial preferences in admissions in 1996. By fall 2006, there were just 96 Black freshmen at UCLA, per the New York Times.

Separately, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered state agencies to stop considering diversity in their hiring practices, and leaders from Texas A&M, Texas State and the University of Houston have said they will comply with the directive.

The latest: Texas A&M took it a step further and also removed DEI considerations from its admissions standards, Chancellor John Sharp announced last week.

The other side: "Removing DEI from admissions sends the message that minority students are not wanted at Texas A&M and puts our state in jeopardy of losing those bright young minds from coming to our state," state Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston) said in a statement Wednesday.


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