After the Supreme Court overturned the consideration of race in the college admissions process in June, Elon University will focus on new initiatives and recruitment, according to Vice President of Enrollment Greg Zaiser.
Zaiser wrote in a statement to Elon News Network that these initiatives will include participation in a Common Application Student Context Pilot that will provide distinctions between sub-groups of applicants — particularly first-generation and low income students. The university will also partner with College Greenlight, a national college search platform for community-based organizations to strengthen pathways for underrepresented students, streamline the financial aid application process and modify communication to advance Elon’s commitment to diversity early in potential students’ introduction to the university.
Zaiser wrote this also includes replacing two of the “Think Fast” short answer questions on the Common Application, instead asking “What cultural traditions, experiences or celebrations are important to you? How have they influenced your understanding of self?” and “Who are you? Describe yourself.”
Another initiative to maintain and increase diversity on campus is recruitment, according to Elon University President Connie Book.
“We will continue our practice in that our commitment to being enriched through a diverse class stays the same. We will follow the law, but we will use new tools to ensure that we're successful,” Book said in an interview with Elon News Network. “We are honed in on asking students and questions on their application about how their lived experience has shaped them.”
In her President’s Address on Aug. 14, Book said the university has placed new recruiters in multiple states to increase diversity, including Colorado, Illinois and Long Island.
“We also are working nationally with services that can place us in diverse environments for recruiting so that we're going to high schools that have a diverse student body and sharing news about Elon and Elon’s strength and recruiting students from this location,” Book told Elon News Network. “We've added an additional admissions counselor focused on diversifying the student body.”
Yet, according to Zaiser, recruitment is something the university will continue to look into since it is separate from considering race in admission.
“It’s important to note that use of race in evaluation of admission candidates is not legal. That is clear. Financial Aid/Scholarships and recruitment activities are not under the court’s ‘strict scrutiny’ so we anticipate continuing to recognize students in our processes the same way we have historically done separate from admission,” Zaiser wrote. “The more we know about applicants the better. Decisions are contextual so we will continue to seek to get to know students in new and different ways.”
Zaiser also said the Common App will still ask students for their race, but the answer will be hidden as it is uploaded to Slate — the platform Elon uses that manages admissions, enrollment and advancement in higher education.
While this form of admissions is new to most of the country, Zaiser acknowledged that the public university systems of California and Michigan have practiced race-neutral admission since 1996 and 2006, respectively.
“This is not unprecedented. Michigan, California and other states have had to practice race neutral admission for years. They have worked hard to prioritize diversity in admission but it’s been challenging,” Zaiser wrote. “That we admit 67% of applicants means we’ll continue to be able to work toward our goals. The SCOTUS decision does not change our mission, values or priorities. It just means we have to go about them in new and creative ways.”
However, representatives from both the University of Michigan and the University of California wrote briefs to the Supreme Court reporting that race-neutral admissions have led to a drop in diversity on campus.
“Yet, despite persistent, vigorous, and varied efforts to increase student-body racial and ethnic diversity by race-neutral means, admission and enrollment of underrepresented minority students have fallen precipitously in many of U-M’s schools and colleges since Proposal 2 was adopted,” the brief from the University of Michigan stated. “U-M’s experience thus represents a natural experiment in race-neutral admissions that this Court should consider in determining whether efficacious race-neutral alternatives are in fact available to Harvard, UNC, or other institutions of higher education.”
The University of California system has spent over half a billion dollars in the last nine years to try to increase diversity in its students, but it still faces a deficit, according to the brief.
“Many students from underrepresented minority groups, particularly those at the U.C.’s most selective campuses, will often find themselves the sole student of their race in a class,” according to the brief from the University of California.
Other than Michigan and California, affirmative action was banned in seven other states before the ruling — including Oklahoma, who wrote in a separate brief that race-neutral admissions did not affect the level of diversity.
In the brief petitioning for the removal of affirmative action written to the Supreme Court, the University of Oklahoma stated they remain “just as diverse today (if not more so) than it was when Oklahoma banned affirmative action in 2012.”
Naeemah Clark, Elon’s associate provost for academic inclusive excellence, said she has high hopes for race-neutral admissions.
“I do think that if we're really good at being intentional about recruiting students from a variety of backgrounds, I think that it actually will increase our number of students of color,” Clark said. “I think that we are going to have to be a little bit more creative about how we recruit students, students of color to the campus and how we make sure that we're offering a great curriculum and co curricular experiences that are exciting for students of color.”
Clark, Zaiser, and Book all said Elon’s admissions process is very holistic and intentional.
“We know it's critical for the learning environment,” Book said in an interview with Elon News Network. “We benefit from the community from the richness of different perspectives and creates the kind of learning that we value, so we've created a holistic effort around admissions and we'll continue to make those investments.”