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Supreme Court Case Could Change the Face of College Campuses

With reversal on affirmative action, enrollments could become less diverse.

Hispanics, African Americans and Asians make up about 30 percent of 's student body, but, a few years from now, that percentage could drop if the Supreme Court reverses its position on affirmative action.

Last week, the court announced it will hear arguments this fall for a Texas case in which the plaintiff claims she was discriminated against attending the University of Texas because she is white.

The use of affirmative action in college admissions was last upheld in 2003, but the makeup of the Supreme Court has since changed significantly. In The Huffington Post, law professor Ediberto Roman said he believes the conservative bloc of justices will likely eradicate the practice "once and for all."

The court's ultimate decision could have major implications. A reversal of the current opinion would change the way hundreds of college admissions departments around the country use affirmative action policies to sift through millions of applications each year. According to data compiled by U.S. News & World Report, it could affect thousands of students applying to George Mason University alone.

University of Virginia Law Professor Tomiko Brown-Nagin says historical data suggests the elimination of affirmative action would likely result in whiter college campuses.

"After the passage of one of the propositions in California that banned the use of race in admissions, the number of blacks and Hispanics admitted to the flagship schools did decrease significantly," Brown-Nagin said.

But, she explained, the use of affirmative action has been more nuanced since the court's 2003 decision. "Many institutions have already cut back on their use of affirmative action policies ... (they) consider it among several other factors. It has to be non-determinative."

For some schools, the Supreme Court ruling will have no bearing on admissions. Smaller campuses like in Arlington and community schools like don't use affirmative action at all. Open admissions allow students who qualify based on test scores and grades to automatically enroll.

The policy is really only used by the most competitive schools in the country, Brown-Nagin said. "Those are the ones that really have their choice of applicants and all of the applicants are quite competitive," she said.

A spokesman for George Mason University emphasized that the school has no specific diversity quotas. , another competitive school that uses affirmative action, released a statement to Patch explaining its admissions department takes a "holistic approach to the undergraduate admissions process" and that "We are watching with interest the developments from the Supreme Court."

Qian Tsai, the director of the demographics and workforce group at the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, said regardless of the affirmative action ruling, college campuses will become more diverse in the long run.

"In the next 10 to 15 years, white will be the minority," Tsai said. "We’re already seeing that now in the under 18 population, Hispanics and Asians are growing rapidly. That has to do with the birth rate."

Tsai said it's hard to predict how college demographics will change if the court reverses the policy. 

"It's possible that we would see an increase in the white population in the college campus" in the short-term, she said.

But Brown-Nagin isn't convinced that affirmative action is all-but dead. She thinks Justice Anthony Kennedy, who many believe will vote with the traditionally conservative justices, could swing his vote in favor of the policy.

"He always has an interesting take on the use of race by educational institutions," she said. "He could be skeptical, but he could have a different view. That could mean the outcome is not so certain as some people seem to think it is."

Terry Lee February 29, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Lauren, appreciate the reply. I'd suggest a more appropriate headline for this article would be, "With reversal on affirmative action, college enrollments in Virginia not likely to become less diverse."
Anoneemous February 29, 2012 at 08:45 PM
The best way to end racial discrimination is to end racial discrimination. Imagine, college entrance being based on one's abilities and accomplishments, as opposed to one's race? What will blacks and hispanics do when they have to compete on a level playing field? My, my! Perish the thought!
Anoneemous February 29, 2012 at 08:48 PM
I fotgot to add in my first comment that if the Oakton Patch is going to survive, it will need to clean up this trash journalism such as this one written by Sausser, or call it what it is, an opinion piece with a strong, liberal bias.
Common Sense March 01, 2012 at 01:48 PM
I grew up in a so called "diverse" community. (I am a 'minority' by the way) My parents raised me properly. I worked hard in school & stayed out of trouble. I focused on improving my life by learning and having an open mind. I did not make sports, celebrities & fashion become my priority. In the end, I went to a good school, and have a good job. All this wasn't because of my 'race' but because of what me and my family believe in and worked for. I have black friends who are successful because of what they have achieved, not because of their race. If we want an even playing field, we should teach our young ones to value opportunity & work hard, so they can achieve what they deserve, and not expect it to be handed to them ...this goes for ALL races
Anoneemous March 01, 2012 at 03:12 PM
To "Common Sense". I can't tell you how much I enjoyed reading your comment, not because it was somewhat aligned with my view of AA, but because it really goes directly to the issue of what it takes to achieve your dreams in our wonderful country, what ever those dreams are. I support Affirmative Action (AA), when it means that I, as an individual and as a business man, should make an effort to hire a "qualified" minority when I look around my business and see mostly white faces. AA means to me that I have an obligation to hire a minority when that person has the "minimum" skills necessary to do the job I need done. It also means that I should also train, guide, and coach that minority to be more than minimally qualified to help that person be "highly qualified and competitive". It's called "mentoring". My 40 years of experience with this AA approach has been hugely successful for me and for my employees when I was dealing with a minority person that demonstrated the kinds of values that you describe in your comment. When I hired a minority person who was energetic, self-motivating, always seeking more knowledge and skills, I found that I was more than willing to do what it takes to help them improve. This was also true of white employees. My gripe is that the laws that created Affirmative Action have been highjacked and twisted to mandate QUOTAS, which are specifically against the laws that created AA.

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