The number of minority freshmen at the University of Michigan remains
about the same this fall, despite a ban on affirmative action approved
by the state’s voters a year ago.
The flagship public university in Ann Arbor, Mich., has been able to maintain its minority numbers without considering race or ethnicity in admissions partly by enrolling a larger class. The 11 percent expansion appears to have allowed admissions officers to reach deeper into the pool of applicants to find more students of color with SAT scores and grades comparable to whites who were also accepted.
The larger freshmen class has also caused slight declines in the percentages of minorities, except for Asians, but the overall results contrast with big drops in minority freshmen at the University of Texas, University of Washington, University of California, Los Angeles and University of California, Berkeley, immediately after affirmative action was outlawed in those states.
Like Michigan, California and Washington passed similar amendments to their state constitutions. A federal court banned affirmative action in Texas.
“At other universities with similar ballot proposals across the country, underrepresented minority student enrollment has dropped significantly,” noted Lester Monts, senior vice provost at the University of Michigan.
Monts, who is African American, emphasized the university’s “ongoing commitment to diversity” and vowed to reach out in the future “to ensure the most highly-qualified and diverse applicant pool.”
Enrollment figures for freshmen released by the University of Michigan last week show that underrepresented minorities — African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans — total 651, five fewer than last year. With the larger class, they declined from 12.7 percent to 11.3 percent, excluding international students, who customarily are not counted in racial-ethnic breakdowns.
African Americans slid from 6.3 percent to 5.8 percent, despite the addition of four for a total 334; Hispanics dipped from 5.3 percent to 4.7 percent, with their numbers reduced by seven to 267; and Native Americans slipped from 1 percent to 0.9 percent after 50, two fewer, enrolled.
But the percentage of Asians increased to 13.2 percent, up from 12 percent, as their numbers rose by 135 to 757.
Ward Connerly, president of the American Civil Rights Institute in Sacramento, Calif., who led the campaign for the ban in Michigan, California and Washington state, called the initial results inconclusive.
University of Michigan administrators, he suggested, anticipated the passage of the ban on affirmative action last November and laid plans to expand enrollment to offset the impact. He also observed the university had gone to court to buy time for race and ethnicity to be considered through the end of last December.
Theodore M. Shaw, director-counsel and president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, sided with the university in previous lawsuits against its admissions policies for undergraduates and law students. In 2003, the Supreme Court struck down the undergraduate procedure, but upheld the law school’s.
“Obviously, the university is using other factors,” said Shaw, who once taught at Michigan’s law school. “In the scheme of things, I’m pleased with these numbers.”
In the future, Connerly urged the university to conduct “outreach efforts” to find low-income and first-generation college students and also to ban legacy admissions for the children and grandchildren of alumni.
“They can make an adjustment to a race-neutral paradigm without an effect on black students,” he said.
Rebecca Thompson, legislative director of the United States Student Association, which supports affirmative action, noted that Michigan’s overall black enrollment dipped even though a few more freshmen enrolled.
“We’d like to see how these numbers look over the next few years in terms of both recruitment and retention,” said Thompson, a graduate of Northern Michigan University.
At Wayne State University in Detroit, the affirmative action ban has had an impact similar to what has happened at Michigan. Wayne’s freshman class was 9 percent bigger and the numbers of African Americans, Native Americans and Asians went up slightly, but down a bit for Hispanics. There were slim increases in the percentage of African Americans and Native Americans, and small decreases in Asians and Hispanics.
Michigan State University, the land-grant college in Lansing, has a freshman class that is 16 percent bigger and has come close to maintaining the presence of underrepresented minorities. The total number of African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans declined by 15 to 898; their overall percentage decreased slightly from 13.1 percent to 12.8 percent.