We know how to foster greater diversity in the student body, because some public universities have done so. When the University of Texas at Austin began admitting the top 10% of every high school graduating class in the state in the late 1990s, it created pathways for schools in historically most disadvantaged communities. to send students to this flagship university.
Over the next decade, the number of high schools in Texas that graduated from 674 to 900. Once on campus, these students achieved levels similar to all other students. According to a 2020 discussion paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, this program increased the incomes of these students without significantly harming those who were ârejectedâ in terms of graduation rates and earnings.
I know firsthand as a white man that diversity improves the education of every student. I grew up in Houston, graduating from one of the most diverse high schools in America. With no racial group exceeding 36% of the population, students tended to develop a sense of cultural humility, an understanding that their worldview was just one perspective among many. It’s hard to learn this lesson in some of our elite public universities when the black population is extremely small.
One possible explanation for the decline in the number of black students at these institutions is that tuition fees rose dramatically at many colleges during and after the 2008 financial crisis to offset substantial declines in public funding per student. (The pandemic’s toll on state tax revenues poses a new risk to the funding of public universities.)
There are ways around this problem. Louisiana State University, which faced severe cuts after the recession, was still able to grow its black student population. One effective strategy was to recruit students from every parish in Louisiana.
Research has shown that one of the most powerful levers for colleges seeking greater diversity is to offer financial assistance that is more responsive to need. To that end, the University of Kentucky announced in 2016 a major change in the way it distributes financial aid, pledging to ensure that the majority of funds go to aid as needed. This fall, Auburn, which ranks last in the top 50 public universities for meeting the financial needs of its undergraduates, increased its own aid to freshmen by $ 2.4 million, for a total of $ 3.5 million, as well as the expansion of scholarship opportunities.
Increasing aid as needed was one of the recommendations of a school task force set up last year to tackle racial disparities. Auburn says he’s also started using the common app to reach a larger population and has piloted a program that doesn’t focus on test scores in admissions. There is some evidence that deviating from standardized test scores can increase racial and economic diversity.